Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Importance Of IBM’s Quantum Hardware Roadmap

This week IBM released their hardware roadmap for Quantum Computing. As with any roadmap, these are goals, not dates locked in concrete, and unforeseen circumstances can push out dates, and unforeseen breakthroughs can move them in. The farther the dates are out into the future, the more unreliable they likely are.

However, IBM executives are trained to under-promise and over-deliver, which suggests that this roadmap may be more reliable than most that describes a technology that has yet to be validated by a full production implementation.

Let’s talk about why this roadmap is essential this month.

The Roadmap To The Quantum Future

Quantum computing promises a massive and unprecedented change to the technology segment. With implementations ranging from transport and security to huge, unprecedented computing power, saying Quantum Computing is a game-changer would be a gross understatement.

But with any massive technology change comes a requirement to spin up developers that can create tools for a new extremely high-powered platform. As noted above, Quantum computing promises a two magnitude increase in computational performance, taking jobs that might consume a supercomputer for much a year and completing them instead in minutes.

Companies that have developed the skills to use these new computers should outstrip their competitors, much like companies that grasped the importance of desktop and server platforms early outstripped their less agile competitors last century.

But moving too early can result in a lot of wasted effort. However, given the risk of falling behind and the unprecedented jump in computational power, for those entities differentiated by computational performance (banking, defense, medical research, weather forecasting, for instance), being late could be catastrophic.

Based on this roadmap, those working in Natural Sciences and Financial applications focused on modeling should already be engaged in early training and prototyping. That is, the kinds of solutions IBM listed to showcase the critical problems Quantum Computing will begin to focus on after mid-decade.

These include optimizing the nitrogen-fixation process for fertilizer, which should significantly increase farm yields, convert CO2 into hydrocarbons to reduce global warming, improve financial models to predict better and assure financial performance, and develop new antibiotics to deal with resistant strains of bacteria.

Those looking for broader HPC applications should begin looking at this technology around the 2023/2024 timeframe. Still, given Finance and Natural Sciences will have plowed the field, so to speak, concerning necessary interfaces and applications, advancements should come much faster after 2025. As a result, it may be necessary to recruit from Natural Science and Finance efforts to jump-start your Quantum group if you wait until late in the cycle at that time.


New technology begins to mature when you can accurately predict advancements; roadmaps like IBM’s signal that the effort is starting to transition from science experiment to viable tool. But the hardware solution, to be viable, requires a parallel software effort to provide functionality and make sure the hardware being developed works optimally with the platforms and software that will run on it.

This critical synergy, or lack thereof, tends to show up when a new hardware concept starts shipping to companies that will put it into production. The lack of this effort accruing in parallel can lead to failed technology launches and dead-end platforms.

The IBM roadmap, and others like it, help drive the creative process on the software side to assure that when the hardware is ready, the platforms and apps that will initially make use of it are available.

Wrapping Up

Given the near-term potential uses of Quantum Computing, the technology promises to improve the world we live in massively. From developing critical remedies to emerging medical threats to aggressively moving to correct global warming without needing to ban internal combustion engines entirely, this technology can change the world for the better. It also could potentially better assure a return on investors’ investments and create ever more profitable financial trading models.

IBM predicts they’ll be in production with this technology by 2030, and if you aren’t ready for when your industry moves, given the two magnitudes expected performance increase, your firm will likely be left in the dust. If you aren’t working on developing Quantum Skills now, you may want to form a working group to either catch-up or identify the best year for you to develop Quantum expertise.

The clock is running, folks, and I expect most firms will not be ready for this eventual pivot.





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