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IBM ramps up quantum education initiative

IBM is trying hard to break quantum computing away from the boffins to find real-world application areas

Education is a key theme of IBM’s long-term plan to build out quantum computing. The company used London’s Quantum Summit event to launch its Quantum Accelerator programme, which it said would offer services that support forward-thinking organisations along the path to quantum advantage – the point at which quantum technologies outperform classical computers.

IBM said that among the services offered to accelerator participants will be workshops and tutorials, expert consultation and dedicated IBM Technical Services team members.

Discussing the challenges that face quantum computing, Katie Pizzolato, director of IBM Quantum Strategy, said: “At IBM, there is a huge focus on democratising the technology and putting the back-end in the cloud.”

Quantum computing has huge potential to tackle the hardest computational challenges, with major applications in key industries such as finance, pharma, automotive, energy, utilities and agriculture. However, as it is an emerging technology, there is currently a shortage of knowledge and skills in the market, and despite being excited about the transformative possibilities, it can be difficult for business leaders to know how to realise their quantum ambitions.

“Oftentimes, when we talk about quantum computing, there is so much technology that people try to wrap their heads around,” said Pizzolato. The challenge facing IBM and other organisations pushing the boundaries of quantum computing is not only about explaining how a quantum computer – which can be considered as a computational black box – can solve difficult problems, but Pizzolato and IBM also believe it is important for people to understand how this links and partners with a classical computing approach.

“We are looking at how to make software more of a partner and use the Qiskit runtime to operate quantum computing side by side with classical computing,” she added.

According to Pizzolato, IBM client conversations about quantum computing are becoming more mainstream. “We need to meet people where there are,” she said. “How do you educate the workforce and decide whether you have the right skills?”

However, so far, every organisation that IBM has worked with has people with a background in quantum mechanics. Organisations with such expertise at hand can “look at use cases through a quantum lens”, she said.

According to Pizzolato, organisations that have been successful have quantum champions. They usually have practitioners and developers who want the opportunity to make use of skills they may not have used in their regular job, to experiment with new ideas and concepts, such as developing quantum algorithms.

Chemistry is one of the application areas that IBM talks to clients about, she said. There is a natural fit between quantum theory in chemistry and quantum computing.

There are also opportunities to use quantum computing in machine learning, said Pizzolato. “It has to be something that is hard to simulate classically,” she added. “You need things that provide differentiation.” This means that the use cases need to have a proven advantage over classical computing methods.

Read more about quantum computing

  • Quantum computing takes a radically different approach to programming. IBM’s education head discusses how to get started.
  • Car maker BMW is encouraging researchers and startups to submit industry-specific algorithms that take advantage of quantum computing.

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