This week IBM announced they were able to get one of their most potent quantum computers, a 27 -qubit client deployed system to achieve a quantum volume of 64. This advancement shortens the potential timeline till “quantum advantage,” the time when a quantum computer can outperform and more traditional computer significantly. IBM is one of a handful of companies working on the entire quantum technology stack so that if they can get to quantum advantage, their path to market after that should be relatively short and quick.
Let’s talk about quantum computing this week and toss in a bit of AI to make it interesting.
AI and Quantum Computing
IBM is involved in two of the coming significant disruptive changes coming to the computing industry. IBM Watson is their AI (artificial intelligence) effort, and it continues to lead the market in terms of true AI at scale. But the real power will come to this effort when IBM can showcase a general use AI, rather than one that has to be specially trained and configured for each complex task. That is the solution most of us think about when we imagine AI—a truly flexible intelligent system
Quantum computing is the other significant long-term strategic effort the company is massively funding, and it promises to revolutionize parallel processing, security, and even communications once it matures. IBM hasn’t just been a leader in R&D (research and development); they have been a leader in ensuring programmers are trained in the unique tools and methods quantum computers require for their programming. This simultaneous development allows them to, in parallel, assure the critical infrastructure needed to make use of a quantum advantage capable quantum computer is mature when the computer itself becomes viable. Without this effort, it could take a decade or more after a viable quantum advantage computer is created to bring a solution to market. This effort in depth should result in a significant time to market advantage for IBM once their effort reaches the quantum advantage stage.
These two technologies are on track to mature within years of each other, and the real promise of what will result could come from their subsequent combination.
The Anticipated AI/Quantum Blend
Both advanced AIs like Watson and quantum computers use the emerging capability to advance their capabilities. While very different in terms of capability and function, the two systems could be combined to create an autonomous capability that we can only imagine today. The concept of Deep Learning is applied to the future version of Watson, which could self-train and adapt on the fly to a wide variety of use cases. If you then add quantum advantage to that and you not only get the autonomous capability, you gain the computational capability to address highly complex problems like weather prediction far more effectively.
Imagine a system that was highly accurate at predicting the future and could provide advice, or automatically direct resources, well in advance of when they were needed for things like disaster response, military defense, or even pandemic control.
The potential for such a blended system could be critical not only for responding to the next pandemic but for preventing it from entering the country in enough volume that it couldn’t be contained. The analytical capability of such a system would be unprecedented and have the potential to return IBM or any company that developed it into one of the most powerful companies in the world. Fortunately, IBM believes strongly in both assuring the result is unbiased and that it is designed to enhance not replace humans; otherwise, I’d be more concerned with a Skynet like outcome.
With both AI and quantum computing, we are getting ever closer to another computing revolution. IBM is not only at the heart of this effort, but they are also one of a tiny number of companies advanced enough in both to created something even more revolutionary. A quantum-enhanced general purpose AI. And what is interesting is their time to market for all three of these efforts, given their focus on parallel development for the needed ecosystem, appears far ahead of anyone else. Granted, until someone gets it done, it is still anyone’s race, IBM appears though to have a massive lead at the moment.