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Quantum computing strides continue with IBM, Q Network growth

IBM literally doubled down on its commitment to quantum computing with the addition of 60 more high-profile IBM Q Network members and news that it has doubled its Quantum Volume metric to 32.

IBM kept its quantum computing drumbeat going at the Consumer Electronics Show this week with news that it has more than doubled the number of IBM Q Network users over the past year and has signed with Daimler AG to jointly develop the next generation of rechargeable automotive batteries using quantum computers.

Some of the latest additions to the IBM Q Network include Delta Airlines, Goldman Sachs and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The multiyear deal IBM signed with Delta is the first agreement involving quantum computing in the airline industry, officials from each company said. The two companies will explore developing practical applications to solve problems corporate IT shops and their respective users routinely face every day.

Delta joined the IBM Q Network through one of IBM's Quantum Computing Hub organizations -- in this case, North Carolina State University -- where IBM can work more closely with not just user organizations in that region, but academic institutions as well. IBM believes Delta can also make meaningful contributions toward improving quantum computing skills as well as generally build a greater sense of community among a diverse set of organizations.

"Delta can work more closely with key professors and the academic research arm of N.C. State to improve their ability to teach students on a number of quantum technologies," said Jamie Thomas, general manager overseeing the strategy and development of IBM's Systems unit. "[Delta] can also offer up experts to many of the regional organizations in the southeast [United States] and collaborate with Research Triangle Park on a number of projects."

Jamie ThomasJamie Thomas

Similarly, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory serves as a quantum computing hub working with other national labs as well as with academic institutions, including the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"You can see the relationships and ecosystems building (through the network of quantum hubs), which is important because they are all working to solve concrete problems that is necessary to increase the general maturation of quantum computing in regions across the country," Thomas said.

IBM doubles Quantum Volume

In other quantum computing-related news, IBM officials said they have achieved another scientific milestone with its highest Quantum Volume to date of 32, doubling the previous high of 16. Company officials believe the Quantum Volume metric is a truer measurement of performance because it takes into consideration more than just the raw speed of its quantum computers. According to Thomas, it is a major step along the way to accomplishing Quantum Advantage, which is the ability to solve complex problems that are beyond the abilities of classical systems.

"This milestone is not only important to us because it edges us closer to Quantum Advantage, but because it means we have kept our commitment to double Quantum Volume on an annual basis," Thomas said.

I think IBM got a bit upset over those recent claims by Google of achieving Quantum Advantage and so they are taking this opportunity [at CES] to reinforce their point about Quantum Volume.
Frank DzubeckPresident, Communications Network Architects

What helped IBM achieve its goal was the introduction of its 53-qubit quantum system last fall, in concert with improved qubit connectivity, a better coherence rate and enhanced air mitigation capabilities, all of which are essential measurements in raising the Quantum Volume number, Thomas said.

"Underneath these metrics is also things like improving the ability to manage these systems, increasing their resiliency and how all the electronics interact with the processor itself," she said.

One analyst also believes that Quantum Volume is a more practical measure of a quantum system's power, saying that too many vendors of quantum systems are focused on their machines' speeds and feeds -- similar to the performance battles waged among competing server vendors 10 and 20 years ago. He added this isn't a practical metric given the nature of quantum science compared to classical architectures.

"Companies such as Google are focusing on Quantum Advantage from a speeds-and-feeds perspective, but that can be just a PR game," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects Inc. "I think IBM got a bit upset over those recent claims by Google of achieving Quantum Advantage and so they are taking this opportunity [at CES] to reinforce their point about Quantum Volume," he said.

Quantum revs car batteries

IBM has also begun working jointly with Daimler to develop the next generation of automotive batteries. The two companies said they are using quantum computers to simulate the chemical makeup of lithium-sulfur batteries, which they claim offers significantly higher energy densities than the current lithium-ion batteries. Officials from both companies said their goal is to design a next-generation rechargeable battery from the ground up.

"The whole battery market is hot across all industries, particularly among automobiles," Thomas said. "The key is finding different paths to create a battery that maintains its energy for longer periods of time and is more cost-effective for the masses.

Another benefit to using lithium-sulfur batteries is it eliminates the need for cobalt, a material that is largely found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the Belgian Congo. Because that country and the immediately surrounding territories are often war torn, supply of the materials at times can be constrained.

"The important considerations here are with no cobalt necessary, not only will the supply constraints disappear, but it makes these batteries for automobiles and trucks a lot less expensive," Dzubeck said.

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