Friday, December 22, 2017

IBM Q Network – moving Quantum Computing from science to problem solver

By Rich Ptak

Image Courtesy of IBM, Inc.
On December 14th, IBM announced the IBM Q Network, a worldwide collaborative effort to create a connected community of quantum computing involved individuals and organizations. Three relationship options are available to meet the varying interests and needs of potential members that range from start-ups to F500 enterprises, also including universities and research institutions with provisions for interested individuals in engineering, science and business.
The globe spanning cooperative network is linked by the IBM Cloud and enabled by IBM Q[1] to advance and accelerate progress in the race to realize Quantum Advantage (QA). QA occurs when quantum computing can deliver commercial value with demonstrably better, quicker and more accurate solutions than classical computing for substantive, real-life problems. This is an overview and our comments on the IBM Q Network announcement.

IBM Q Experience – building the “Market” for Quantum 

For decades, quantum computing existed primarily as an esoteric exercise in theories and physics. Activities focused on developing quantum science theories were restricted to universities, research institutions and theoretical scientists. Quantum science was a necessary precursor to quantum computing as a technology that could be applied to problem-solving.
More recently, a combination of events (potential exhaustion of Moore’s Law, escalating problem complexity) drove investigation into alternatives to classical computing techniques. Some vendors, including IBM, made the decision to pursue commercially viable quantum computing. The race to develop quantum technology began.
In May 2016, IBM made basic quantum computers available in the IBM Cloud. This, along with other IBM contributions (discussed here[2]), contributed to accelerate the evolution of quantum computing science, including IBM’s proposal of Quantum Volume as a more functional metric of computational value than qubits.
More significant was when IBM became the first vendor to provide widespread, free, public access to quantum computers via IBM Q Experience[3]. This enabled a larger, diverse audience to acquire knowledge about and experience with quantum science methodologies, modeling, etc. Today, it provides free access to 5- and 16-qubit quantum computing prototypes residing in the IBM Cloud.
Additional available services, support and tools include QISKit[4]; an open source software development kit with examples tailored for specific types of problems, e.g. chemical structure modeling and simulation. These helped to advance quantum computing away from what was primarily a scientific exercise to a publicly accessible ‘sand-box’ where interested individuals, engineers, businesses and other groups could learn and experiment.
But, the overall quantum “market”, while intensely competitive, remained dispersed, unorganized and unfocused. It was difficult to dispassionately assess progress, compare machines or get a coherent sense of the state of quantum in its progress from science to technology.
With the introduction of IBM Q Network, IBM provides an organizing model that allows full flexibility for creativity and innovation while helping to focus collaborative efforts undertaken by a global community to achieve Quantum Advantage.

The IBM Q Network

IBM Q Network will be a global community of individuals and organizations acting as independent, but collaborating units focused on achieving common goals. It is designed to operate as an ecosystem of loosely linked, coordinated organizations without the constraint and difficulty of imposed overarching management. This is very similar (consciously, or not) to an organizational model first implemented by the early RAND organization, a uniquely successful incubator of innovation.
Relationships are grouped in three categories (Hub, Partners and Members) with specific relationship, responsibility and activity interests. See Figure 1 below. Hubs (IBM Research, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Keio University, University of Oxford, University of Melbourne) act as regional centers for education, research, development and commercialization of quantum computing. Partners (SAMSUNG, JPMorgan CHASE & Co., DAIMLER) focus on a specific industry or academic field as pioneers in applying quantum computing. Members (Barclays, Honda, Materials Magic (Hitachi), NAGASE) build their own general knowledge of quantum computing while developing a strategy to become quantum ready.
All participants have unique access to the latest IBM Q quantum systems (now on a 20-qubit device, followed shortly by a 50-qubit device) via the IBM Cloud.
                            Figure 1 IBM Q Network - Organizational Collaborators         Image Courtesy of IBM, Inc.
Specific levels of support, involvement with IBM on projects vary with category. For example, Hubs provide access to IBM Q systems, tech support, educational and training resources, community workshops and events.
Partners have direct access to IBM Q system and work with IBM on joint training, development and other projects.
Members can access IBM Q and IBM Q Network community resources through IBM Research. Additional details about resources committed, project activities, funding, etc. are worked out with IBM. These may vary based on agreements between participants and IBM. More details available at the IBM Q Network website[5].      
One more point to be emphasized, the IBM Q Network is also targeted at and provides support for individuals wanting to share ideas, research plans, projects and proposals. It is to be an open network for creative innovation, collaboration and communication.

What does this all mean?

It’s our opinion that IBM Q Network marks a significant advance for quantum computing in general. To date, the quantum space has been chaotic with few standards or consistent benchmarks against which to evaluate competing offerings and claims.
The network leverages existing communications technology to create a global “commons’ for sharing knowledge aimed at putting the science of quantum to work. The resulting global knowledge community resembles Republic of Letters[6], the Europe-wide shared community of thinkers, scientists and innovators which led to an explosion in scientific development and entrepreneurial activities from the 1600s through 1800s.  
IBM’s move to build a global community, loosely coupled but, with a clear set of goals along with a definite, expanding support infrastructure will be a significant advance on the road to fully commercialized quantum computing. It provides a much needed structure for extensive collaboration with minimal constraints dedicated to advancing quantum technology.
IBM has invited all interested parties, including competitor vendors to participate; subject only to an interest in advancing the commercialization of quantum computing and use of the IBM Q resources. Undoubtedly, there will be contractual issues over intellectual property rights, information sharing, ownership, financial arrangements, investment, etc. These will be worked out individually with participants. IBM understands the issues; they are willing to be very flexible in setting terms and conditions. 
Finally, even at its birth, IBM Q Network carries impressive weight. IBM provided some Day 1 statistics about the IBM Q Network. These include: the IBM Q Experience provides access to the first Quantum Computers on the cloud. It has over 60,000 users worldwide located on all 7 continents (including Antarctica). There are over 35 external papers already published. Day 1, the network includes F500 companies, research institutions in Europe, US and Asia, as well over 150 colleges and universities.
We encourage quantum-interested individuals and enterprises to examine the IBM Q Network. The network itself is a major effort to provide a working environment that will attract a diverse community of thought-leaders to advance quantum computing to a productive technology. It is a major gamble by IBM. But we think it will prove to be a decisive one on the road to a successful commercial quantum computing infrastructure. Look for yourself; you’ll see the benefit.

[4] IBM Quantum Information Software, go to link:
[6] Mokyr, Joel 2016. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

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