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IBM's plan to dominate the quantum computer industry comes into focus

IBM plans to build a 1,000-qubit quantum computer by 2023, far greater than anything available today.

IBM's plan to dominate the quantum computer industry comes into focus

Staff at IBM is working on building the refrigeration unit for massive quantum computers on the way.

Photo: IBM

The race for quantum supremacy is heating up — and also cooling down.

IBM announced Tuesday that it plans to build a 1,000-qubit quantum computer by 2023. Its machine, code-named "Condor," would far outstrip the machines available on the market today. If successful, IBM's future computer could pave the way for a revolution in computing. But it's not the only company working toward that future, and the path between the machines of today and IBM's vision is far from simple.

The company also sees this announcement as the beginning of even greater possibilities ahead. IBM said that the path it's now on should lead to IBM being able to build a million-plus qubit machine in the future. Those machines — which the company isn't putting a timeline on when it would be able to build — would potentially unlock the transformative use cases of quantum computers, from new drug discovery to super secure computers. Many see a 1 million-qubit machine as what's needed to start achieving those revolutionary uses.

But IBM still has quite a way to get to 1,000 qubits, let alone into the millions. Its current state-of-the-art machine has 65 qubits, and it plans to release a 127-qubit processor next year, and a 433-qubit device in 2022. Unlike classical bits, quantum bits are extremely fragile, and are wont to decohere, or produce errors. Current quantum computers need additional qubits to check on the calculations of other bits; for each calculation, there could be several qubits needed, which is part of the reason why so many companies in the quantum space are pushing to build such large machines.

"We think of IBM Quantum 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," IBM's vice president of quantum research, Jay Gambetta, said in a release.

IBM's research director Dar Gil sitting inside the refrigeration unit. Gil is over 6 feet tall. Photo: IBM

These future computers will also be massive. IBM is in the process of building out a refrigeration space at its Yorktown Heights research facility. It's working on a 10-foot-tall and 6-foot-wide "superfridge," internally nicknamed after the fantastic 1995 Bond film "Goldeneye," that's larger than any dilution refrigerator available on the market today. "We've designed this behemoth with a million-qubit system in mind," Gambetta said.

IBM is far from the only company working on building quantum computers that may one day be as revolutionary as the original mainframe computers were. Last year, Google claimed it had achieved a type of "quantum supremacy" — calculating something in seconds that would've taken a classical computer thousands of years to complete — and that it also had a solution in mind for how to build a million-qubit machine. Honeywell also recently claimed to have the most powerful quantum computer available on the market today, and has stated it has a pathway to far more powerful machines ahead of it over the next few years.

IBM's announcement signals the company's bold gamble to win the quantum race. What started out as a small research team just a few years ago could one day be as important to the company as its mainframe business once was. But that's a big gamble, on a strict time frame. IBM has struggled in recent years; even before the pandemic, its sales have declined year-over-year for 28 of the past 32 quarters. The company doesn't break out sales for its existing quantum services — likely a very small part of its cloud-computing services — but it's possible investors, or even new CEO Arvind Krishna, will want to see results out of the division before a 1,000-qubit machine is ready.

Transforming 2021

The future of retail is hiding in an abandoned mall

The warehouse is moving closer to customers' houses as ecommerce eats the world of retail.

Microfulfillment centers could help retailers compete with the largest ecommerce companies.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American mall has been decimated by the rise in ecommerce. But soon, it may also be their savior — sort of, at least.

Long before the pandemic kept people at home in front of their computers, buying everything they needed to see out lockdown online, malls were on the decline and ecommerce was on the rise.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Fintech

IBM’s huge bet on building a cloud for banks

Howard Boville left his post as Bank of America's CTO to lead Big Blue's bold cloud offensive. Can he make it work?

IBM is embarking on an ambitious bid to build a cloud banking platform.

Image: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Moving to the cloud can be burdensome for a bank: If you don't know exactly how and where your company's data is being stored, meeting regulations that control it can be almost impossible. Howard Boville is betting he can solve that problem.

Last spring, Boville left his post as chief technology officer at Bank of America to lead IBM's ambitious bid to build a cloud banking platform. The concept: that any bank or fintech would automatically be following the rules in any part of the world it operates, as soon as it started using the platform.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

IBM wants to help people ‘reimagine the resume’

A letter to the U.S. secretaries of Education and Labor suggests allowing federal funds to be used for skills education.

IBM's letter details working with the new administration to give Americans more pathways to skills-based careers, expanding access to federal student aid and creating a national credentialing system to reimagine the resume.

Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images

Global tech giant IBM published a letter Thursday to the U.S. secretaries of Education and Labor with ideas and policy recommendations on how the country can lead in education and build a more equitable economy.

IBM's letter proposes collaboration with the new administration to give Americans more pathways to skills-based careers, expand access to federal student aid and create a national credentialing system — using blockchain — to reimagine the resume.

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Penelope Blackwell

Penelope Blackwell is a reporting fellow at Protocol covering edtech. She reports on the developments in tech that are shaping the future of learning. Previously, she interned at The Baltimore Sun covering emerging news and produced content for Carnegie-Knight's News21 documenting hate and bias incidents in the U.S. She is also a recent graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and Morgan State University.

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