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Universities, academic start-ups part of IBM’s quantum computing push


By David Schwartz
Published: April 10th, 2018

IBM is making a big push in its quantum computing commercialization efforts, expanding its IBM Q Network to include eight start-ups, some with university roots.

The IBM Q network was launched just four months ago and houses the computer giant’s hopes for success in quantum computing, commercial strategy got its start in December 2017, with the creation of the IBM Q Network, the entity that encapsulates the company’s fledgling quantum computing business. Network members include big companies like JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, and Honda, as well as research institution member including Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, and the University of Melbourne.

The participating organizations get cloud-based access to IBM’s 20-qubit quantum computer – and later a planned 50-qubit system — as well as access to training and collaboration with IBM researchers

Now eight start-ups have been tapped to join, says IBM research director Jeff Welser. Some will get the same access to IBM hardware, while others may only get access to expertise and other resources. All will get to use IBM’s quantum software tools, libraries and applications, and will get an inside track on new quantum technologies and applications.

One of the eight is Australian quantum technology company Q-CTRL, based at the University of Sydney. “It’s a huge validation of our work,” said Q-CTRL founder and chief executive Michael Biercuk, a quantum scientist in the university’s School of Physics. “We will gain direct access to the company’s most advanced devices and have an opportunity to help solve some of quantum computing’s most vexing challenges.”

According to Biercuk, the partnership with IBM will help his company’s researchers find answers to one of the toughest problems in quantum computing: dealing with the hardware errors that appear when qubits — the units that perform the computing operations — lose coherence with other qubits in the system.

Another of the start-ups chosen is Zapata Computing, a stealthy “quantum software and services company” out of Harvard University that just last week secured $5.4 million in equity funding. Zapata was launched last year by a group of Harvard scientists including Alán Aspuru-Guzik. His research focuses on the intersection of quantum computing, machine learning, and chemistry. More specifically, an IBM release said, Zapata is developing algorithms for “chemistry, machine learning, security, and error correction.”

Aspuru-Guzik — who is leaving Harvard for the University of Toronto this summer – sees quantum computing as potentially leading to major breakthroughs in chemistry, and ultimately breakthroughs in major societal challenges.

“When you look at things like climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or water pollution, we do not have time in the 21st century to make incremental improvements in the field of chemistry,” Aspuru-Guzik said in a University of Toronto blog post last week announcing his appointment there. “So, one of the things that I want to see is ‘self-driving’ chemical laboratories. With machine learning, we can use the data from one experiment to tell us what our next experiment should be. We can make scientific decisions much more quickly.”

Said IBM’s Welser, “Our team couldn’t be more excited to begin working closely with these industry leading startups to explore how quantum computing may address today’s unsolvable problems in industries such as financial services, automotive or chemistry. We believe that extending our sphere of collaborators to include the start-up community will help to rapidly foster growth at all levels of the quantum stack and advance early applications.”

Sources: TOP500.org, The Australian and Xconomy

Posted under: Industry-Sponsored Research Week

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