At CES 2019, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke to IBM Q and IBM Research VP of quantum computing strategy and ecosystem Bob Sutor about the IBM Q System One, an integrated quantum computing system. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
We’re announcing three different things today for IBM Q, our quantum computing program at IBM. The first is the introduction of the IBM Q System One, a model of which is right here behind me. There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about quantum computing, and most of the talk is about qubits and chips. Now the actual quantum device is really very small. It’s only about perhaps an inch by an inch, but what do you really need to make that operate?
Well, that chip has to be operated at close to absolute zero. At absolute zero, nothing moves. This is 0.01 degrees above that absolute zero, which is much colder than outer space. So you need refrigeration. You need electronics. Now you can’t just walk into a store and say, “Please give me your latest quantum computing electronics.” So we had to develop microwave controllers, pulse generators, to program these actual devices. So that comes out of our research and engineering work at IBM.
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And then you need to do the total enclosure. You have to integrate the system, so that all the parts work together reliably, so that you can scale it up, so you can maintain the system, and so that you can upgrade the system. I’ll tell you, it used to take us days or weeks to change something in the system that now with the new model, the IBM Q System One, we can do in hours or days.
Second part of the announcement is that we are opening up a quantum computation center in Poughkeepsie, NY in the second half of this year. Now I know not everybody knows where Poughkeepsie, NY is. It’s a very significant city in IBM history. For example, in 1941, we bought an old canning building, and that was one of our first manufacturing sites. It was just a small little brownstone building. More to today though—IBM Poughkeepsie has been really the center of what we’ve done with mainframes through years for R&D, as well as manufacturing. So it makes a lot of sense to bring these new state of the art systems back to Poughkeepsie. By the way, Poughkeepsie is on the Hudson River about 75 miles north of New York City.
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And then finally, the question is, “Well, who uses these systems? And what do they use them for?” So we created the IBM Q Network at the end of 2017, and we announced 12 partners. As of today, we have 43 partners, including several ones that we are announcing at CES. Exxon Mobil, who will use quantum computing very widely through their energy research programs. The second is CERN in Geneva—this is the home of the Large Hadron Collider. Now this is not really a business application—they’re only trying to understand how the universe works, which I think is a pretty good application, as well.
We have a hub for the IBM Q Network at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee. We’re announcing that three other national labs are also joining that hub—those are Argonne, Fermilab, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab. So the commercial interests, the government interests in quantum computing is growing very rapidly, and that’s why we decided to build this integrated system, which would be the foundation for how we provide quantum computing through the cloud to our customers.