IBM, Exxon Mobil make quantum computing leap
Exxon Mobil is a founding partner with IBM on an new quantum computing network that they contend could lead to new breakthroughs in petrochemicals, electric grid management and climate change modeling.
Quantum computing, considered the next big breakthrough in information technology, remains in its infancy. Quantum computing musters processing power that exceeds that of today’s supercomputers and puts that power to enhance research as well as computer models used to predict the outcome of decisions, actions, alternatives and external events.
Exxon Mobil is the first energy company to join the new IBM Q Network of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and research labs to work with the newly unveiled quantum computing system. The new IBM Q System One is the first effort to take quantum computing into commercial use by IBM, headquartered in Armonk, N.Y.
Other partners include banking giant J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., technology and appliance manufacturer Samsung, German auto maker Daimler, and the consulting firm Accenture.
“The scale and complexity of many challenges we face in our business surpass the limits of today’s traditional computers,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Quantum computing can potentially provide us with capabilities to simulate nature and chemistry that we’ve never had before.”
Exxon Mobil also cited the potential to use more accurate quantum chemistry calculations for the discovery of new materials that could enhance carbon capture at power plants and other pollution sources.
“The advancement of new breakthroughs,” Swarup added, “will be critical in addressing the dual challenge of producing energy to fuel economies and meeting consumers’ needs while managing the risks of climate change.”
Many scientists and industry analysts believe quantum computing is the key to creating more powerful artificial intelligence. Unlike typical computers that use binary digits of ones and zeros, quantum computing employs quantum bits, called qubits, that can simultaneously represent both ones and zeros. Qbits are so fragile and volatile that IBM used the same company that protects the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London to protect and cool the hardware.
The Q System One is enclosed in a 9-foot-tall, 9-foot-wide case of half-inch thick borosilicate glass forming a sealed, airtight enclosure, IBM said. A series of independent aluminum and steel frames unify the system to avoid the potential vibration interference that can corrupt the qubits.
IBM said its system is the first developed for commercial use. “IBM Q systems are designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle,” the company said.
Companies can’t just buy the new computers yet though. Thus far, the computing power is only available via IBM’s cloud network. But Exxon Mobil can work directly with IBM scientists on problem solving and algorithms.