IBM Looking for a Quantum "Killer App"

| by Sergio De Simone Follow 17 Followers on Apr 17, 2018. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |

A collection of startups have joined IBM’s Q Network to help explore practical applications of quantum computing for business and science, writes IBM Research director Jeff Welser.

At its recent Q Summit, IBM has announced a number of startups to join the IBM Q Network, an industry-oriented initiative aimed to explore practical applications of quantum computing. Created last December, the IBM Q Network initially included companies of the caliber of Samsung, JPMorgan, Daimler AG, and several others. Those companies received various levels of access to the IBM quantum platform, including its cloud-based quantum processor and simulator.

IBM’s latest announcement shows the organisation is trying to grow its Q network to include small startups, too. Interestingly, most of the selected startups focus on quantum technology and some of them are only a few months old. The list includes Zapata Computing, a company developing quantum algorithms for chemistry, machine learning, security, and error correction; Q-CTRL, an Australian company developing quantum error control systems; Cambridge Quantum Computing, a British company developing a platform agnostic compiler to build quantum programs; QC Ware, aiming to build enterprise solutions running on quantum hardware, and others.

Quantum computing is still in its infancy and likely years away from any conceivable practical commercial applications. Q-CTRL CEO described their collaboration with IBM as a way to expand the application space of quantum computers in an effort to find the "killer app" for quantum computing. While it is still unclear what IBM’s initiative might lead to, it is interesting to note that an ecosystem of commercial companies has started to grow around real quantum hardware that is currently available and its related development tools.

Last year, IBM made available a quantum software development kit, named QISKit, which could be used to run quantum experiments on IBM Q quantum processors. Currently IBM is providing access to a 16 qubit processor and a 20 qubit simulator.

Despite being still in its early stages, quantum computing is gathering growing interest from the industry, with several major players competing to become the first to demonstrate quantum supremacy, i.e., the ability of quantum computers to solve problems that a classical computer cannot. Besides IBM, those includes Microsoft, Google, Intel, and others.

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Sorry to point out the obvious by Cameron Purdy

There's a reason why "3 letter acronym" government agencies have invested in quantum computer research, and that is because there is an obvious killer app for quantum computers.

Those "virtually unbreakable private keys" (think: SSL, TLS, blockchain, SHA, etc.) are theoretically solvable in zero time (!!!) by a sufficiently wide quantum computer, but would take longer than the life of the sun to solve using a very fast modern day computer with lots of cores.

So yes, there are "killer apps" for quantum computers, and those killer apps will all tend to be problems that are NP hard (or even harder -- I haven't tried to think through the possibility that NP complete problems are solvable with quantum computers) with conventional computers.

Keep in mind that today's "quantum computers" are so basic that they may prove to be unusable for these kinds of problems, but it seems quite possible that before long, we'll be exceeding God's power budget for his (her?) server farm if we explore quantum computing too deeply ;-)

Re: Sorry to point out the obvious by Richard Clayton

We both know IBM is looking for someone to develop that "killer app" so they can sell it to "3-letter agencies".

Re: Sorry to point out the obvious by Daniel Bryant

There is also the possibility to create truly secure communication channels, and so it's not all bad news :-)

Like many things in business and government it's a "Red Queen Race" situation, where we all have to keep moving (and innovating) just to stay still

Re: Sorry to point out the obvious by Cameron Purdy

... and what do you know? A month later, IBM looks to cash in:

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