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IBM drums up quantum computing future

IBM’s head honcho, Ginni Rometty, welcomes Australia’s Woodside Energy to the quantum computing fold through a partnership to harness the technology to shore up cyber security and plant operations

Enterprises will need to start preparing for the dawn of quantum computing, which is expected to be deployed in production systems within two to three years, said IBM chairman, president and CEO Ginni Rometty during a visit to Australia.

For a while now, IBM has been championing the use of quantum computing to pave the way for future scientific discoveries, vast improvements in optimising supply chains, and new ways to model financial data to make better investments.

One company to join the quantum computing fray is Woodside Energy, the first Australian firm to sign up for IBM’s global quantum computing network. It believes quantum computing, along with artificial intelligence (AI), will underpin the “plant of the future” which essentially runs itself.

According to Woodside CEO Peter Coleman, quantum computing can also help to enhance cyber security, noting that his company, one of a dozen critical infrastructure companies in Australia, had fended off some two million attempts to breach its systems every month.

In the past, air gaps between physical plants prevented attacks on one facility from spreading to other parts of the organisation, but Coleman acknowledged that this safeguard was eroding with the convergence of operational technology and IT.

As part of their pact, which was inked in just three weeks, Woodside and IBM will use quantum computing to conduct deep computational simulations across the value chain of Woodside’s business.

Chapter two of cloud

During her presentation in Sydney, Rometty welcomed Woodside to the quantum computing fold, adding that companies are now moving into “chapter two” of cloud adoption. IBM estimates that just 20% of workloads have been transitioned to the cloud.

She said digital transformation has delivered new customer experiences so far, though she pointed out that IBM clients were still seeing “random acts of digital everywhere”.

What Rometty described as chapter two would be characterised by the pervasive use of AI, noting that this would lead to a wholesale reformation of the workforce.

“The average skill will have a half-life of three to five years,” she warned, calling for businesses to hire workers not for their skills but their propensity to learn.

Woodside Energy was also one of the first Australian companies to embrace IBM’s Watson AI platform as early as 2013.

Coleman said although it had taken the company a couple of years to train Watson, it has since ingested 25 million documents into a knowledge base about the company’s plants and operations, with 80% of the company’s employees using it daily.

AI is also being used by Woodside to predict plant corrosion, which can be difficult to detect due to cladding and accounts for part of its $1bn annual maintenance bill. Coleman said using AI to warn of early signs of corrosion could save the company $30,000 a year.

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