IBM research director at CES 2020: We will hit the quantum advantage this decade

Q Network users are studying carbon chemistry, route optimization, and risk analysis on IBM's quantum computer.

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IBM research director Dario Gil started his session at CES 2020 with a science lesson to explain the basics of quantum computing. He hit the highlights of superposition, interference, and entanglement

After this primer, Gil said that the promise of quantum computing is that it offers the power to model natural processes and understand how they work. 

"Quantum is the only technology we know that alters the equation of what is possible to solve versus impossible to solve," he said.

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Jeannette Garcia, senior manager for quantum applications algorithms and theory at IBM Research, shared some of the real-world problems that IBM is working on: 

  • Improved nitrogen-fixation process for creating ammonia-based fertilizer
  • New classes of antibiotics to counter multidrug-resistant bacteria
  • New polymers that could replace steel-based components
  • New electrolytes for lithium-air batteries for electric airplanes

Garcia's focus is battery research, which is also the topic of a new IBM partnership with Daimler. She said researchers are using quantum computing to figure out quantum chemistry.

"We are looking at the fundamental behavior of atoms on a molecular scale," she said.

Q Network by the numbers 

IBM launched the Q Network a year ago and the growth has been impressive: 

  • 15 deployed quantum computers
  • 200,000 registered users
  • 150 billion executions
  • 200 scientific publications
  • 100 commercial partners, including several announced at CES 2020

Gil said that the numbers show that people want access to quantum hardware. Users in the IBM Q network are studying these topics:

  • Advanced battery materials and structures
  • Materials for semiconductor manufacturing
  • Aspects of carbon chemistry in petrochemicals
  • Manufacturing defect identification 
  • Maritime routing optimization
  • Risk analysis and options pricing

Gil said that it's easy to print more qubits, the hard part is making the interactions among qubits high quality. IBM reports that researchers are making progress on that metric as well

Quantum volume is a metric that incorporates the number of qubits and the error rate of interactions. IBM has doubled the quantum volume of the system every year, with the latest improvement increasing the current volume to 32.

"This is the fourth time we doubled the quantum volume of a quantum computer," he said. 

"We call this Gambetta's Law after our head of science and technology who came up with the methodology of measuring the power of quantum computing," he said.

Gil said that the "quantum ready" era started in 2016 and the next phase will start when the technology improves enough to achieve "quantum advantage." 
 
"First, a whole generation of developers is going to need to learn how to program these computers," he said. "Then when we hit quantum advantage, we'll be able to solve real-world problems and it's absolutely going to happen this decade."

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At CES 2020, IBM research director Dario Gil gave the audience a primer on quantum computing and predicted that the industry will achieve quantum advantage this decade.

Image: IBM