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IBM quantum computers make sizable leap

The largest enterprises now invest in quantum computing strategies -- but it's still a long way off for the typical business. IBM's Condor and Heron QPUs accelerate its arrival.

IBM unveiled its Condor and Heron quantum processing units Monday, which keeps the company on its own public roadmap -- and by most accounts, in the lead of the quantum computing race.

The Condor QPU, with 1,121 qubits, is the second fastest in the world. Heron is smaller, with 133 qubits, but can combine with other QPUs; a new quantum computer running three Herons, called Quantum System Two, is operational at IBM's lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Some 300 of the world's largest enterprises, including Boeing, BMW and Goldman Sachs, are investing in quantum computing strategies, said Gartner analyst Chirag Dekate. These companies aren't yet using quantum computers -- that is likely years away -- but they are assessing processes that could bring business value when quantum is ready to handle optimization of workflows such as business processes and manufacturing design.

"We're looking at a race -- a race between China, between IBM, Google, Microsoft, Honeywell -- all the big boys are in this race to create a workable, operationally efficient quantum computer," said Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York, on the television show 60 Minutes Sunday in a report about the IBM quantum computers. "The nation or company that does this will rule the world economy."

Companies that research quantum computing for their business workflows not only assess processes that might be suited to these new technologies, but they also are working out how they will create applications to run on quantum computers. Doing so, Dekate said, will give them an edge when quantum computing becomes available on a larger scale.

IBM's quantum computing development and innovation roadmap.
IBM's quantum computing public roadmap -- and adherence to its goals -- has interested enterprises in the hardware's potential. IBM extended it to 2033 this week.

In addition to IBM, companies developing quantum systems include Google, IonQ, Microsoft, Quantium and others. For now, most operational quantum computers run at vendor labs or academic institutions, although the Cleveland Clinic set up an IBM quantum computer on site earlier this year for cancer research.

Interestingly, quantum computers aren't a good match to run generative AI -- so far. But generative AI can be used to write quantum computing application code. Quantum computers, however, might excel in machine learning processes that could speed up drug discovery or aircraft design.

"Enterprises that are looking for an innovation edge -- that are looking to ride the inevitable wave of quantum as an exponential technology -- might want to get started today to start investing in quantum using technologies and ecosystems like what IBM and many of their peers have provided," Dekate said. "[They need to] start building the core capability needed to [discover and] build quantum applications that will enable them to dominate in the future."

That said, quantum systems are unlikely to replace today's computers, which quantum experts call classical computing. More likely, Dekate said, they will work alongside each other in the long term.

"I will not be using my quantum computer to check my email or work on spreadsheets, but there are problems that quantum computers can solve that we cannot even express in classical [computing] semantics," he said.

Don Fluckinger covers digital experience management, end-user computing, CPUs and assorted other topics for TechTarget Editorial. Got a tip? Email him.

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