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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.

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

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What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Alex Katouzian
Alex Katouzian currently serves as senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure (MCI) Business Unit at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. In this role, Katouzian is responsible for the profit, loss and strategy of the MCI BU, which includes business lines for Mobile Handset Products and Application Processor Technologies, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband for embedded applications, Small and Macro Cells, Modem Technologies, Compute products across multiple OS’, eXtended Reality and AI Edge Cloud products.
Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
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Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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