IBM Corp. has been focussing on quantum computing for quite some time now, but the momentum in India is just beginning to gain steam. Quantum computers are meant to solve very specific, complex computational problems that are impossible to solve using classical supercomputers. In an interview, Sandip Patel, managing director, IBM India, talks about the company’s strategy on quantum computing, its potential in India, and how the pandemic has changed the trends in technology adoption among its clients. Edited excerpts:
Last month, IBM unveiled its new quantum computer in Germany, the first outside the US. What makes IBM focus on quantum computing?
IBM’s focus on quantum is not new, our strategy is focused on hardware, software and community—with the goal of developing applications with a quantum advantage. In 2016, IBM was the first company to make a universal quantum computer accessible via the cloud, and now has an active community of more than 325,000 users, who have run hundreds of billions of quantum circuits on the world’s largest fleet of more than 20 quantum computers. Quantum computing is nearing a phase of commercialization that will change our world. Early adopters of quantum’s unique ability to solve certain types of problems may achieve breakthroughs that enable new business models. For instance, leveraging quantum technology, Daimler-Benz and IBM are exploring the future of electric vehicles; ExxonMobil is collaborating with us to find solutions to complex energy problems. Scientists at Mitsubishi Chemical are using quantum computers to better understand chemical reactions to help develop more efficient batteries. Anthem, Inc. is studying how quantum may improve diagnostic accuracy for personalized healthcare treatments. Delta Air Lines is exploring quantum’s potential to transform customer experiences. From the field of drug discovery to complex financial modelling, the potential applications of this technology are huge in a country like India.
IBM recently allowed over-the-cloud access to its quantum systems for top-tier institutions of India. What is India’s potential in quantum computing?
Top-tier universities in India are collaborating with us through specialized IBM Quantum Educator and IBM Quantum Research programs to accelerate advanced training and research in quantum computing. We believe, within a few years, the industry will discover the first applications where quantum computers together with classical computers will solve practical problems intractable today for classical systems, alone. With the announcement of the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications, interest in quantum computing has been surging in India and it is an opportune time to make it ubiquitous and accessible to a diverse audience to unlock its true potential. Introducing students to quantum computing earlier in their academic careers is an opportunity to capture interest in the subject and provide a pathway to quantum careers of the future. This is also why we have established IBM quantum hubs at universities and labs all over the world, with the mission to accelerate learning, skills development, and industry collaborations.
How much is IBM investing in quantum computing globally and in India?
In 2020, IBM spent $6.33 billion on research, development, and engineering. IBM received 9,130 US patents in 2020, topping the US patent list for the 28th consecutive year. For the fourth year in a row, IBM India was the second highest contributor to IBM’s global tally with 930 patents granted to inventors from India in 2020. Much of IBM’s projects in development are related to hybrid cloud solutions, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and quantum computing. This reflects IBM’s culture of nurturing scientific research and critical thinking that empowers innovation. Specifically in the area of quantum, our quantum scientists and engineers around the world are conducting fundamental research to improve the technology, as well as collaborating with our Q Network partners to advance practical applications with a quantum advantage for science and business.
By what timeframe can we expect to see quantum computing truly transform the industry?
In 2023, we will debut the 1,121-qubit IBM Quantum Condor processor. We think of Condor as an inflection point, a milestone that marks our ability to implement error correction and scale up our devices, while simultaneously complex enough to explore potential Quantum Advantages— problems that we can solve more efficiently on a quantum computer than on the world’s best supercomputers. As IBM’s quantum development roadmap progresses, developers with domain expertise in fields such as finance, energy, chemistry, AI, and others will find quantum computing more accessible, and more relevant.
How has the pandemic changed technology adoption trends among your clients?
The pandemic has significantly accelerated the move to digital as the need for speed to market, agility, and continuous innovation has become imperative for success, growth and resilience. Our clients are looking to modernize and move their mission-critical workloads to the cloud, and infuse AI deep into the decision-making workflows of their business. They need a hybrid cloud platform that is open, flexible, and secure. Hence, IBM is making investments in bringing technologies to the market which can aid companies in their journey. The key here is how organizations like IBM can continue to be relevant and help clients in accelerating their go-to-market and innovation cycle.
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