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article imageQ&A: IBM opens up quantum computing to solve 'real problems' Special

By Tim Sandle     Oct 9, 2019 in Technology
The IBM Quantum Computation Center is about moving multiple quantum computers out of the research lab, and optimizing them for businesses and academia to use. IBM's Scott Crowder explains more.
The role of the new IBM Quantum Computation Center is to put real quantum computers in the hands of real users exploring the use quantum computing to solve real problems. As well as opening the new quantum computing center, IBM has launched the brand new IBM Q quantum computer. To learn more, Digital Journal caught up with Scott Crowder, Vice President and CTO, IBM Q, Technical Strategy & Transformation, IBM Systems.
Digital Journal: How significant will quantum computing be?
Scott Crowder: Universal quantum computers have the potential to solve certain classes of intractable problems that are too large or time-consuming for today’s classical computers to answer, alone. A good example of where these problems exist is in simulating chemistry. Classical computers – even supercomputers – quickly run out processing power attempting to perfectly simulate molecular interactions. Quantum computers, because they operate in the same quantum mechanical way as nature, have the potential to accurately simulate the chemical reactions for new drugs, or materials.
This capability is still years away, but in 2017, IBM scientists published the breakthrough simulation of Beryllium hydride – the largest molecule to be simulated by a quantum computer at that time. More recently, scientists at Mitsubishi Chemical, Keio University and IBM simulated the initial steps of the reaction mechanism between lithium and oxygen in lithium-air batteries. Available on arXiv, "Computational Investigations of the Lithium Superoxide Dimer Rearrangement on Noisy Quantum Devices" details the first step in modeling the entire lithium-oxygen reaction on a quantum computer. Better understanding this interaction could lead to more efficient batteries for mobile devices or automotive vehicles.
DJ: At what stage of development are today’s quantum computers?
Crowder: Quantum computing is still in early development. We’re in a comparable era to where classical computers were in the 1950s – except, today, everyone has access to quantum computers, over the cloud. Imagine having a few years to prepare for the next generation of computing, while they’re still prototypes?
This is why we put IBM Q systems on the cloud for open, public research, as well as business use cases. Now is the time for everyone to be an early adopter and get “quantum ready” by exploring what we can do with quantum computers across a variety of potential applications and industries.
DJ: What advantages will the IBM Quantum Computation Center deliver?
Crowder: The IBM Quantum Computation Center is the first example of taking multiple quantum computers out of the research lab, and optimizing them for the reliability and reproducibility of programmable multi-qubit operations – enabling state-of-the-art quantum computational research with 95 percent availability to support our community of more than 150,000 registered users and nearly 80 commercial clients, academic institutions and research laboratories.
DJ: How will the new 53-qubit quantum computer differ to earlier developments?
Crowder: The 53-qubit quantum system is the single largest universal quantum system to be made available for commercial use, to date. It offers a larger lattice, referred to as a heavy-hex layout, and gives users the ability to run even more complex entanglement and connectivity experiments.
DJ: What are the biggest challenges with developing quantum computers?
Crowder: The biggest challenge is improving performance so our scientists, our users, and our clients can run more complex experiments. It’s why IBM developed the Quantum Volume metric. It’s a procedure that determines how powerful a quantum computer is, accounting for both gate and measurement errors, device cross talk, as well as device connectivity and circuit compiler efficiency.
The higher the Quantum Volume, the more real-world, complex problems quantum computers can potentially solve, such as simulating chemistry, modeling financial risk, and supply chain optimization. The IBM Q System One, announced in January, and five of the systems in the IBM Quantum Computation Center have a Quantum Volume of 16 – the best performance we’ve measured.
Recently, research and advisory firm Gartner highlighted Quantum Volume as a way to measure progress toward quantum advantage. Our goal is to double Quantum Volume every year.
DJ: Where will quantum computing go next?
Crowder: IBM’s goal is to develop accessible quantum computers that can reliably implement a broad array of quantum algorithms and programs that solve practical problems – that have a quantum advantage over what classical computers can do, alone. When we reach this era of quantum advantage in the next few years, it will accelerate discoveries in science and create commercial value in business. This capability, no matter current claims, has not been realized, yet.
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