IBM Primes Its Quantum Computers for Business Applications

Collaboration With Research Firms and Private Sector Offers Business Use Cases
IBM Primes Its Quantum Computers for Business Applications
Image: IBM

Although quantum computing has been in development for a long time, the technology is confined to laboratories and test sites and is not yet ready for mainstream business adoption. But, firms including IBM and Google have identified potential business applications.

The global quantum computing industry is projected to grow from $412 million in 2020 to $8.6 billion in 2027, according to an IDC report.

With an eye on the lucrative quantum computing industry, IBM has invested billions of dollars in quantum computer development, developing more quantum computers than any other company in the last eight years. IBM has deployed over 75 quantum computing systems of increasingly improved scale and performance at both its own facilities as well as client sites, Venkat Subramaniam - IBM quantum lead, IBM Research India, told Information Security Media Group.

Some of these include:

  • The 127-qubit IBM Quantum Eagle processor used in IBM’s milestone published on the cover of Nature in June 2023, demonstrating the ability of today’s quantum systems to operate at utility-scale;
  • The IBM Quantum Heron, debuted in December 2023, which is the first in a new series of utility-scale quantum processors with an architecture engineered over four years to deliver IBM’s highest-performance metrics and lowest error rates of any IBM Quantum processor to date, including a five-fold error reduction over IBM Eagle;
  • IBM Quantum System Two is the company’s first modular quantum computer and the cornerstone of IBM’s quantum-centric supercomputing architecture. The first IBM Quantum System Two, located in Yorktown Heights, New York, is now operational with three IBM Heron processors and supporting control electronics.
IBM Quantum Heron Processor (Image: IBM)

As businesses explore the integration of quantum computing into their operations, they stand to enhance their overall competitiveness, driving growth and securing a leading position in the next wave of technological advancement. This strategic integration not only prepares businesses for the future but also empowers them to solve today's problems with tomorrow's solutions, setting a new benchmark for what is achievable.

Last year, IBM Quantum and the University of California, Berkeley, published a paper demonstrating quantum utility: the point at which quantum computers can serve as scientific tools to explore new classes of problems in chemistry, physics and materials, beyond brute-force, classical simulation of quantum mechanics.

Evidently, quantum computing research has been directed mainly at the scientific and medical communities. But what could be some of the business applications, and how far are we from seeing those going mainstream?

Business Applications

The earliest adopters of quantum computing are asset management firms. Subramaniam said his team is working with leading research institutions and private sector leaders, who have mobilized four working groups within industries for which quantum computing holds immediate potential.

"We know that quantum computers have the potential to boost the performance of machine learning systems, and may eventually power efforts in fields from drug discovery to fraud detection. We’re doing foundational research in quantum ML to power tomorrow’s smart quantum algorithms," Subramaniam said.

The four working groups include:

  • Healthcare and Life Sciences: Led by organizations such as Cleveland Clinic and Moderna to explore applications of quantum chemistry and quantum machine learning to challenges such as accelerated molecular discovery and patient risk prediction models;
  • High Energy Physics: Comprised of groundbreaking research institutions such as CERN and DESY, who are working to identify the best-suited quantum calculations for areas such as identification and reconstruction algorithms for particle collision events, and the investigation of theoretical models for high energy physics;
  • Materials: Spearheaded by the teams at Bosch, The University of Chicago, Oak Ridge National Lab, ExxonMobil, and RIKEN, as they aim to explore the best methods to build workflows for materials simulation.
  • Optimization: Aimed at establishing collaboration across global institutions such as E.ON, Wells Fargo and others to explore key questions that progress the identification of optimization problems best suited for quantum advantage in sustainability and finance.

Quantum for Business Advantage

Enterprises invest in technology to enhance decision-making, gain insights, and boost predictive capabilities while striving to reduce time, save costs, foster innovation, and amplify productivity. This would also be expected from quantum computers.

Subramaniam thinks that's still some time away.

"While we have achieved 'quantum utility,' we have not achieved 'quantum advantage' - when quantum computers perform a task of business or scientific relevance more efficiently, cost-effectively, or accurately using a quantum computer than with classical computations alone," he said.

Unlike classic computers, a quantum bit or qubit can exist in superposition states in quantum computing, be subjected to incompatible measurements, and even be entangled with other quantum bits.

That means quantum programming will take into account multiple options simultaneously - a task can be broken down into processes that could be computed simultaneously, thus saving time.

While mainstream business applications of quantum computing are still on the distant horizon, businesses should be exploring how the transformative power of quantum computing could impact their own operations, and their industry.

Quantum computing could prove to be particularly useful in industries such as healthcare and life sciences, where quantum computing could reduce the time for drug discovery and development, and in finance, where it can optimize portfolios, detect fraud, and manage risk with greater precision. Quantum computing could also open up new avenues for creating efficiencies in supply chain management and logistics, enabling businesses to model and simulate various scenarios, leading to more informed decision-making and significant cost reductions.

In terms of improving productivity, quantum computing shows promise in helping accelerate research and development cycles, allowing businesses to innovate faster and bring new products to market more quickly.

Eventually, as quantum computing moves toward mainstream adoption, several service models are expected to emerge, facilitating access and reducing the barriers associated with the technology's complexity and infrastructure requirements. Additionally, the role of open-source frameworks, such as Qiskit (developed by IBM), is crucial in democratizing quantum computing.

About the Author

Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira

Sr. Director - Editorial, ISMG

Pereira has nearly three decades of journalism experience. He is the former editor of CHIP, InformationWeek and CISO MAG. He has also written for The Times of India and The Indian Express.

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