In the game

Water­loo’s not tak­ing a back seat to IBM in quan­tum com­put­ing race

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - TERRY PEN­DER

WATER­LOO — IBM says it is ahead of all chal­lengers in the world­wide race to de­velop and de­ploy quan­tum com­put­ers.

It is an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment for Water­loo Re­gion, where hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in pub­lic and pri­vate funds have been in­vested in the re­search and de­vel­op­ment of quan­tum com­put­ers and re­lated tech­nol­ogy.

For nearly three years now any­one has been able to regis­ter on the IBM Q site and use a quan­tum com­puter free of charge. Once the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion and re­search labs, quan­tum com­put­ers can now be ac­cessed on the in­ter­net.

Quan­tum com­put­ers and other quan­tum de­vices har­ness the traits of atomic par­ti­cles — atoms, elec­trons, neu­rons, ions, pho­tons and the like — to run com­pu­ta­tions and process in­for­ma­tion.

“I think we have the most com­plete pro­gram,” says Bob Su­tor, vice-pres­i­dent for IBM Q ecosys­tem and strat­egy.

“And I think ev­ery sin­gle el­e­ment, from the­o­ret­i­cal physics to build­ing the quan­tum de­vice to host­ing it, to mak­ing it avail­able — it has been in the cloud for 2 ½ years — I don’t think any­one would ar­gue that we are not ahead,” said Su­tor.

And at the an­nual Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas this week, IBM an­nounced it is open­ing a quan­tum com­pu­ta­tion cen­tre for com­mer­cial part­ners in Pough­keep­sie, NY. It also an­nounced that some of the world’s top re­search labs, in­clud­ing CERN, Ar­gonne Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, Fer­mi­lab and Lawrence Berke­ley are join­ing the IBM Q Net­work.

“We are build­ing up this col­lec­tion of hubs and part­ners around the world in­clud­ing some uni­ver­si­ties,” Su­tor said of the IBM Q Net­work. “And we are very in­ter­ested in fact in do­ing one in Canada at some point. We are talk­ing to var­i­ous peo­ple about the pos­si­bil­i­ties there.”

That IBM Q Net­work in­cludes uni­ver­si­ties, sev­eral For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, star­tups and re­search labs that work with IBM to ad­vance quan­tum com­put­ing. Mem­bers have ex­clu­sive ac­cess to what IBM says is the big­gest quan­tum com­puter in the world. The smaller quan­tum com­put­ers can be used by any­one free of charge.

IBM put a small quan­tum com­puter on­line in 2016, and fol­lowed up with a larger one in 2017. More than 100,000 peo­ple have signed up and used the ma­chines, con­duct­ing 6.7 mil­lion com­pu­ta­tions.

“You look at text books, even ones that were writ­ten seven or eight years ago, and peo­ple said things like: ‘If a quan­tum com­puter ever ex­ists in my life­time,’ things like that,” said Su­tor.

“We had got­ten to the point where we had built quan­tum com­put­ers that were sta­ble enough that peo­ple could be­gin to do real com­pu­ta­tions. Just hav­ing peo­ple be­ing able to run a real quan­tum com­puter is very tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence the field is pro­gress­ing.”

The progress and an­nounce­ments out of IBM in­vite com­par­isons to Quan­tum Val­ley, the brand­ing ap­plied to this re­gion by Black­Berry co-founder Mike Lazaridis. With his vision, lead­er­ship and phi­lan­thropy, hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars have been in­vested in quan­tum-re­lated re­search here since 2000.

Lazaridis has do­nated more than $170 mil­lion to the Perimeter In­sti­tute for The­o­ret­i­cal Physics, which he founded in 2000. He do­nated more than $120 mil­lion to the In­sti­tute for Quan­tum Com­put­ing (IQC) and the Water­loo In­sti­tute for Nan­otech­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Water­loo. Af­ter leav­ing Black­Berry, he and Black­Berry co-founder Doug Fre­gin founded Quan­tum Val­ley In­vest­ments in 2013 with a fund of $100 mil­lion to help com­mer­cial­ize quan­tum-re­lated break­throughs.

Lazaridis’ dona­tions were more than dou­bled by fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments. The pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments to­tal about $800 mil­lion since 2000.

Quan­tum com­put­ers and re­lated tech­nol­ogy will lead to the next in­dus­trial su­per­cy­cle, Lazaridis has said, and Canada can­not af­ford to fall be­hind in the world­wide race to de­velop the tech­nol­ogy.

Quan­tum Val­ley In­vest­ments paid $15 mil­lion for a for­mer

Black­Berry build­ing at 560 West­mount Rd. N. where the fund and sev­eral star­tups it sup­ports are lo­cated

Quan­tum re­searchers in Water­loo work in ar­eas such as quan­tum cryp­tog­ra­phy, quan­tum radar, quan­tum sen­sors, quan­tum ma­te­ri­als and er­ror cor­rec­tion in quan­tum com­put­ers. For a time, re­searchers at the In­sti­tute for Quan­tum Com­put­ing (IQC) had the big­gest known quan­tum com­puter in the world.

Af­ter nearly 20 years of work, lo­cal quan­tum re­searcher are not will­ing to ac­cept sec­ond place to IBM, even if the tech gi­ant grabbed the spot­light with its re­cent an­nounce­ments.

Kevin Resch, in­terim di­rec­tor of the IQC, said in an email the re­gion is play­ing a lead­ing role in quan­tum re­search. Pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments have at­tracted a crit­i­cal mass of tal­ented re­searchers, he said. Those re­searchers have trained a quan­tum work­force, and are build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture re­quired to ad­vance quan­tum sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy at an in­ter­na­tional level, he said.

“IQC to­gether with our Quan­tum Val­ley part­ners form a unique ecosys­tem that brings to­gether aca­demics, startup com­pa­nies, in­cu­ba­tors, and pri­vate sec­tor in­vestors to ac­cel­er­ate the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of quan­tum tech­nol­ogy,” said Resch.

“The Quan­tum Val­ley ap­proach is work- ing as we wit­ness the growth of new quan­tum in­dus­try in Water­loo Re­gion,” he said.

Univer­sity of Water­loo spokesper­son Matthew Grant said com­par­isons be­tween Quan­tum Val­ley and IBM are dif­fi­cult be­cause their re­search pri­or­i­ties are dif­fer­ent.

At the In­sti­tute for Quan­tum Com­put­ing there is a fab­ri­ca­tion lab where quan­tum com­puter chips, ma­te­ri­als and sen­sors are made. IQC busi­nesses part­ners can ac­cess the lab and what’s made there to gain a quan­tum ad­van­tage in their work. IQC re­searchers helped build and launch the first quan­tum satel­lite. There are 13 star­tups cur­rently work­ing in the Quan­tum Val­ley In­vest­ments build­ing that spun out of re­search at IQC.

“This is an en­tire ecosys­tem that goes from fun­da­men­tal re­search to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to com­mer­cial­iza­tion to train­ing,” said Grant. “It has been de­scribed to me as a unique ecosys­tem in the world.”

Since it was founded, IQC has trained more than 1,500 peo­ple to work in this emerg­ing sec­tor, and re­searchers there have de­vel­oped a quan­tum sen­sor that is so sen­si­tive it can de­tect a sin­gle can­cer­ous cell, said Grant.

“We have a lot of part­ner­ships with busi­nesses that can come in here and ac­cess equip­ment that they would never be able to ac­cess any­where else.”

IBM

IBM’s Q quan­tum com­pu­ta­tion cen­tre in Pough­keep­sie N.Y., above, has been opened to com­mer­cial part­ners. Water­loo’s Quan­tum Val­ley is do­ing im­por­tant work and is a ma­jor player. too. IBM might be in the lead over­all, but lo­cally, dif­fer­ing and im­por­tant work is done, Water­loo ex­perts say.

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