IBM’s new CEO Arvind Krishna explains why practical future of quantum computing is closer than we think

IBM's new CEO Arvind Krishna explains why practical future of quantum computing is closer than we think

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman‘s Budget speech was replete with geeky terms. One of them was quantum technology. “Quantum technology is opening up new frontiers in computing, communications, cyber security with wide-spread applications. It is expected that lots of commercial applications would emerge from theoretical constructs which are developing in this area,” Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance, said. “It is proposed to provide an outlay of Rs 8,000 crore over a period five years for the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications,” she announced.

One could argue India is far behind in quantum computing and the money allocated is hardly enough for a catch-up. Arvind Krishna, the new CEO of IBM, wrote a guest column for Business Today in 2018, where he highlighted that “for many business leaders, quantum computing seems like a technology that is still years away from practical use. The truth is, the technology exists and a practical quantum future is closer than we think. The field has more than 50 years of scientific advancements already behind it”.

Krishna, who in 2018, was the Director of IBM Research, made several interesting points in the column. Here’s what he said:

Quantum’s potential: “At their most basic, quantum computers process information in a completely different way than classical computers. Instead of classical bits, binary zeros and ones that work one after another, the principles of quantum mechanics give quantum bits (or qubits) exponential compute power. Qubits can represent zeros and ones simultaneously, and they use this “superposition” capability to work together to solve problems,” he wrote. “Because they’re able to exist in more than one state at a time, qubits supercharge the output quantum computers can generate – enabling us to run experiments more efficiently. This could lead to everything from quantum chemistry that drives drug discovery breakthroughs, to quantum algorithms that optimize global manufacturing supply chains,” he believed.

How are businesses using quantum tech: “Businesses are already using quantum computing to examine previously unsolvable problems in their industries. Automotive manufacturers are designing new materials for batteries and electronics. Financial institutions are trying to optimise risk analysis. While there is still much to be done in terms of stabilising and developing quantum systems, each breakthrough gets us closer to applications with commercial, intellectual, and societal benefits,” Krishna wrote.

Skills development: The world needs more people and organisations that understand and have quantum computing skills in hardware, physics, chemistry, and computer science to write algorithms and programmes, he held.  “Quantum computing must also be ubiquitous in the classroom. From computer science courses to chemistry and business classes, today’s students need to understand the technology, and hopefully pursue career paths rooted in quantum computing,” he said.

“Organisations, too, can get educated about the opportunities of quantum computing. The IBM Q Network has commercial relationships with a number of universities around the world to integrate quantum education into classrooms and develop academic-industry partnerships,”  he added.  IBM Q Network is a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, start-ups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing.

“Now is the time to begin exploring what we all can do with near-term quantum computers, how to make the most of these systems, and how to prepare for the more advanced systems we will build. As with artificial intelligence – a once emerging technology that is now being widely adopted across businesses – there is work to be done now to ensure early adopters will reap the benefits of quantum computing,” Krishna concluded.