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IBM: Bringing the Observable Universe Closer

Interview by Zoya Malik (Managing Editor)

At Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas in January 2019, IBM unveiled its IBM Q System One – ‘Q’, the first commercial quantum computer that will provide businesses scope for quantum calculations accessed via IBM Cloud. Zoya Malik, managing editor TFT caught up with Bob Sutor, Vice President, IBM Q Strategy & Ecosystem, IBM Research to discuss the hype, attributes and uses of quantum computing for the financial services industry in the future.

ZM: There is a lot of chatter about quantum computing break passwords? What’s the reality?
(Bob Sutor, Vice President, IBM Q Strategy & Ecosystem, IBM Research)

BS: Not today and likely not for many, many years, if at all. As part of a diligent cybersecurity and data protection plan, all organisations should constantly review their current technologies and operations. IBM and others in the industry and in universities have been working to standardise new “post-quantum” or “quantum-proof” encryption protocols in NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology). IBM offers a Quantum Security Risk Assessment where clients can learn more about these and other cybersecurity strategies and implementations.

ZM: What are attributes of quantum computers over current classics?

BS: First, let’s agree that all computing systems rely on a fundamental ability to store and manipulate information. Today’s classical computers manipulate individual bits, which store information as binary 0 and 1 states. Millions of bits work together to process and display information – the “speed” everyone is familiar with on smartphones, laptops, and the servers in the cloud.

Quantum computers use the physical phenomena of nature to manipulate information via quantum mechanics, one of the most wonderful and strange parts of science. At this fundamental level we have quantum bits, or qubits. Unlike a bit that has to be a 0 or a 1, a qubit can be in a combination of states. To put that in perspective: 50 qubits can represent over one quadrillion data values simultaneously. Three hundred qubits could represent more values than there are atoms in the observable universe.

Quantum computers are not a replacement for classical ones. They complement the traditional systems by possibly being able to solve some forms of intractable problems that “blow up,” or become extremely large or time consuming during computation.


ZM: What are real threats?

BS: The “threat,” if you can call it that, is a lack of understanding of what quantum computers are and what they can do. This is why IBM wants to help industries get “quantum ready” to use today’s systems. That’s why we want quantum computing to be ubiquitous in university classrooms. From computer science courses to chemistry and business classes, students should become familiar with this technology and consider career paths rooted in quantum computing. It’s why we’ve established IBM Q Hubs at universities and labs all over the world, with the mission to accelerate learning, skills development, and industry collaborations.

A clear advantage could be awarded to early adopters in the era of quantum computing who pursue key use cases. 

ZM: Kindly provide a SWOT analysis of the trend.

BS: In five years, IBM believes that the effects of quantum computing will reach beyond the research lab. It will be used extensively by new categories of professionals and developers looking to this emerging method of computing to solve problems once considered unsolvable.

We took a major step closer when we unveiled the IBM Q System One at CES 2019. It is the industry’s first, fully integrated universal quantum computing system, designed and built to scale scientific and commercial use.

ZM: How can quantum computing be applied in finance?

BS: The challenges of the financial industry are those of optimisation. A quantum computer’s exponential power could potentially find the most efficient trade, or portfolio balance, as well as assess the best options in asset pricing and risk analysis, intractable for today’s machines.

Quantum computer applications to further optimise the financial industry could help every corner of society, from retirement planning to individual investors’ stock picking to insurance to better risk assessment for rare events like bad weather.

ZM: Which banks are investing and partnering with IBM?

BS: I can only speak to the organisations that are part of the IBM Q Network, our worldwide community of leading Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

For example, JPMorgan Chase is a premier global financial services partner with IBM, focusing on use cases for quantum computing applicable to the financial industry including trading strategies, portfolio optimisation, asset pricing and risk analysis.


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