IBM’s $100m bid to make a quantum supercomputer

22 May 2023

Image: IBM

IBM is investing in new research to advance quantum technology and tackle the challenging task of integrating classical and quantum computers.

IBM has launched a $100m initiative with US and Japanese universities to develop a quantum-centric supercomputer over the next 10 years.

The tech giant has partnered with the University of Tokyo and the University of Chicago to create a supercomputer powered by 100,000 qubits – or quantum bits – in a bid to transform high-performance computing.

IBM claims that a supercomputer of this size would serve as a “foundation” to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.

As quantum computers increase in size, it is hoped they will eventually be able to solve extremely complicated simulations that are far beyond the capabilities of normal computers.

The potential applications for quantum computers are vast, such as unlocking a deeper understanding of chemical reactions or the discovery of new materials.

But the world is currently far from 100,000 qubits. IBM’s most powerful quantum computer – Osprey – is only 433 qubits and the company claims this is the largest in the world.

To make 100,000 qubits possible, IBM said it is connecting universities to its broader ecosystem to advance underlying technologies and build the necessary components “at scale”.

The first step will be to lay out a blueprint for the powerful machine. IBM said the design will have to tackle the challenging task of integrating classical computers and quantum computers, while breaking new ground in both respective technologies.

IBM said it plans to expand the initiative to include Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory. These are both members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange and house US Department of Energy quantum hubs.

The tech giant plans to utilise the expertise of these two labs expertise to speed up its efforts in building a quantum-centric supercomputer. IBM CEO and chair Arvind Krishna claims the company has been at the “forefront of introducing quantum technology to the world”.

“We have achieved significant progress along our roadmap and mission to globally establish useful quantum technology,” Krishna said. “So much so that we can now, with our partners, truly begin to explore and develop a new class of supercomputing anchored by quantum.”

The University of Tokyo will lead the initiative’s efforts to identify and run end-to-end demonstrations of quantum algorithms. They will also develop and build the supply chain around new components.

Earlier this month, IBM, Microsoft, Moody’s Analytics, Algorithmiq and Horizon Quantum Computing all came on board with Trinity College Dublin to form the Trinity Quantum Alliance. This alliance’s main focus is on building a more organised network for quantum professionals and researchers in Ireland.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic