IBM has unveiled a brand-new quantum computer in Japan, thousands of miles away from the company's quantum computation center in Poughkeepsie, New York, in another step towards bringing quantum technologies out of Big Blue's labs and directly to partners around the world.
A Quantum System One, IBM's flagship integrated superconducting quantum computer, is now available on-premises in the Kawasaki Business Incubation Center in Kawasaki City, for Japanese researchers to run their quantum experiments in fields ranging from chemistry to finance.
Most customers to date can only access IBM's System One over the cloud, by connecting to the company's quantum computation center in Poughkeepsie.
Recently, the company unveiled the very first quantum computer that was physically built outside of the computation center's data centers, when the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany acquired a System One. The system that has now been deployed to Japan is therefore IBM's second quantum computer that is located outside of the US.
The announcement comes as part of a long-standing relationship with Japanese organizations. In 2019, IBM and the University of Tokyo inaugurated the Japan-IBM Quantum Partnership, a national agreement inviting universities and businesses across the country to engage in quantum research. It was agreed then that a Quantum System One would eventually be installed at an IBM facility in Japan.
Building on the partnership, Big Blue and the University of Tokyo launched the Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium last year to further bring together organizations working in the field of quantum. With this, the Japanese government has made it clear that it is keen to be at the forefront of the promising developments that quantum technologies are expected to bring about.
Leveraging some physical properties that are specific to quantum mechanics, quantum computers could one day be capable of carrying out calculations that are impossible to run on the devices that are used today, known as a classical computers.
In some industries, this could have big implications; and as part of the consortium, together with IBM researchers, some Japanese companies have already identified promising use cases. Mitsubishi Chemical's research team, for example, has developed quantum algorithms capable of understanding the complex behavior of industrial chemical compounds with the goal of improving OLED displays.
A recent research paper published by the scientists highlighted the potential of quantum computers when it comes to predicting the properties of OLED materials, which could eventually lead to more efficient displays requiring low-power consumption.
Similarly, researchers from Mizuho Financial Group and Mitsubishi Financial Group have been developing quantum algorithms that could speedup financial operations like Monte Carlo simulations, which could allow for optimized portfolio management thanks to better risk analysis and option pricing.
With access to IBM's Quantum System One, research in those fields is now expected to accelerate. But other industry leaders exploring quantum technologies as part of the partnership extend from Sony to Toyota, through Hitachi, Toshiba or JSR.
Quantum computing is still in its very early stages, and it is not yet possible to use quantum computers to perform computations that are of any value to a business. Rather, scientists are currently carrying out proofs-of-concept, by attempting to identify promising applications and testing them at a very small scale, to be prepared for the moment that the hardware is fully ready.
This is still some way off. Building and controlling the components of quantum computers is a huge challenge, which has so far been limited to the confines of specialist laboratories such as IBM's Poughkeepsie computation center.
It is significant, therefore, that IBM's Quantum System One is now mature enough to be deployed outside of the company's lab.
"Thousands of meticulously engineered components have to work together flawlessly in extreme temperatures within astonishing tolerances," said IBM in a blog post.
Back in the US, too, quantum customers are showing interest in building quantum hardware in their own facilities. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, recently invested $500 million for Big Blue to build quantum hardware on-premises.