IBM, in partnership with the Canadian government, has chosen Quebec to house its first universal quantum system in Canada and the fourth one deployed outside of the U.S, the company announced on Feb. 3. It will be deployed at the IBM Bromont plant in Bromont, Quebec.
The IBM Quantum System One will help researchers develop new solutions in sectors such as energy, life sciences, and sustainability, as well as to improve quantum computers.
The quantum system coming to Quebec is universal, meaning it can run any program written for a quantum computer, unlike other highly specialized narrow purpose systems.
Quantum computers operate on a different principle than classical computers and are superior for certain mathematical workloads, but can’t replace classical systems. Quantum System One will act as a complement to classical computers.
IBM has pinned Quebec as the innovation and technology hub for quantum-related science. In 2020, it, along with various other quantum companies, forged a partnership with the University de Sherbrooke. Today company launched the Quebec-IBM Discovery Accelerator, which will work with the Quebec Government’s Quantum Innovation Zone in Sherbrooke and its Microelectronics Innovation Zone in Bromont.
Canada has deemed quantum solutions as a key technology industry. The interest is reflected in a series of investments, such as ISED’s C$40 million investment in D-Wave Systems, a quantum computing technology firm in British Columbia, in 2021. The investment represents a broader, C$120 million government initiative to develop homebrew quantum computer hardware and software systems. In parallel, Canada has established a slew of new organizations and development initiatives like Quantum Industry Canada, along with various innovation hubs across the country.
The Discovery Accelerator plans to make advances using computational technologies including quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and classical high-performance computing.
“There’s the real potential that using quantum and AI together will allow us to get to some really concrete results very quickly,” said Jean-Francois Barsoum, senior innovation executive at IBM. “That’s what we’re doing this for; to implement these sets of technologies to work with some partners, both in academia and in the private sector, to get to some concrete applications and discoveries relatively quickly.”
In a Q&A session with the press, Anthony Annunziata, director of accelerated discovery at IBM, emphasized Canada’s quantum potential, highlighting its talent pool and centres of competency in Ontario, B.C., and Quebec.
In addition to helping larger industry players, IBM also wants to make quantum computing more accessible to smaller startup partners and researchers in AI. Moreover, the Discovery Accelerator will partner with public and private institutions to make the system available via the cloud.
“We’re marching to try to make quantum accessible, which means that you don’t need to be a quantum expert to utilize it,” Annunziata explained. “Just a few years ago, the only way you could do anything with a quantum computer was you actually had to build one and be a multi-decade-trained quantum scientist…we’re not there anymore.”
Although advancements in quantum technologies have broken down some of the barriers to entry, realizing the capability of quantum computers still needs some specialized skills, Annunziata said. But the barrier is being lowered every day.
For example, IBM has two ways to write programs for a quantum computer: through Python, one of the most common programming languages today, or using a graphical interface that doesn’t require any code.
Additionally, IBM plans to integrate quantum computing into hybrid cloud by adding it as a compute resource so jobs can be scheduled and run in a simple way.
“When you integrate [quantum computing] into a hybrid cloud, then you open the aperture of the types and locations of classical systems that you can use,” said Annunziata, alluding to the complementary nature of classical and quantum computers.
Quebec’s IBM System One is expected to become fully operational in 2023.
Update Feb. 4, 2022, 4:52 E.T: The article has been updated with further comments from IBM.