Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Thursday, January 18, 2018
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IBM Expands ‘Quantum Ready’ Effort 

IBM has enlisted large banks and automakers along with electronics, chemical and materials manufacturers to its quantum computing initiative designed to explore enterprise applications if and when the technology is ready for commercialization.

The company announced further expansion of its IBM Q Network on Thursday (Dec. 14) with the addition of a dozen members that also include a government lab and academic researchers. The "quantum ready" effort gives network members cloud access to IBM's recently released 20-qbit commercial system and future access to a planned 50-qbit machine.

Among the new members of the quantum consortium are J.P. Morgan Chase and Barclay's Bank (NYSE: BCS), automakers Daimler (ETR: DAI) and Honda Motor Co. (NYSE: HMC) and Samsung Electronics (KRX: 005930). Oak Ridge National Laboratory will also get early access to the IBM quantum machines along with university researchers in Australia, Japan and the U.K.

Rounding out the roster of new members are chemical and specialty materials manufacturers.

"We are extending our sphere of collaborators with whom we will advance quantum computing—from exploring practical business and scientific applications, to developing the tools needed to make the systems more accessible as they grow in power and performance," Dario Gil, vice president of AI and IBM Q, noted in a blog post announcing the quantum partnership.

IBM announced online access to its 20-qubit processor last month along with development of an "operational prototype 50-qubit processor" that expands on the company's current architecture. The 50-qubit platform is expected to be part of its early access program during 2018.

J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) said it would examine how quantum computing cloud be used for financial applications such as trading strategies, asset pricing and risk analysis. Other partners are expected to use their quantum computing access to develop new manufacturing capabilities for semiconductors, chemicals and new materials.

IBM has been providing scientists and researchers with access to its quantum processors for more than a year, mostly via an open source software development kit called QISKit. IBM Research said in September it would pair its cloud-based quantum processor with a Jupyter-based data science notebook to promote open source development of new applications.

The software development environment is designed to allow users to develop and deploy quantum algorithms via a Python interface.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) also announced this week it would it would award prizes to researchers for developing Jupyter tutorials with QISKit or contributed code to the development kit.

IBM has adopted an aggressive "quantum readiness" approach in the race to commercialize quantum computers. Competitors that include D-Wave Systems, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) are taking varying approaches to reducing error rates. Proponents note that quantum processor would initially be in hybrid configurations, perhaps using approaches such as quantum co-processors to develop improved machine learning algorithms running on conventional machines.

Promoting its quantum ready approach, IBM's Gil asserted: "Those who wait until fault-tolerance might risk losing out on much nearer-term opportunities."

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 25 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as Executive Editor for Electronic Engineering Times.

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