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IBM makes quantum leap

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IBM recently announced its initiative to build commercially available universal quantum computing systems. The “IBM Q” quantum systems and services will then be delivered to users via the IBM Cloud platform.

IBM has announced an initiative to build commercially available universal quantum computing systems. “IBM Q” quantum systems and services will be delivered via the IBM Cloud platform. While technologies that currently run on classical computers, such as Watson, can help find patterns and insights buried in vast amounts of existing data, quantum computers will deliver solutions to important problems where patterns cannot be seen because the data doesn’t exist and the possibilities that you need to explore to get to the answer are too enormous to ever be processed by classical computers.

IBM also announced:

  • The release of a new API (Application Program Interface) for the IBM Quantum Experience that enables developers and programmers to begin building interfaces between its existing five quantum bit (qubit) cloud-based quantum computer and classical computers, without needing a deep background in quantum physics.
  • The release of an upgraded simulator on the IBM Quantum Experience that can model circuits with up to 20 qubits. In the first half of 2017, IBM plans to release a full SDK (Software Development Kit) on the IBM Quantum Experience for users to build simple quantum applications and software programs.

 

The IBM Quantum Experience enables anyone to connect to IBM’s quantum processor via the IBM Cloud, to run algorithms and experiments, work with the individual quantum bits, and explore tutorials and simulations around what might be possible with quantum computing.

“IBM has invested over decades to growing the field of quantum computing and we are committed to expanding access to quantum systems and their powerful capabilities for the science and business communities,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director for IBM Research. “Following Watson and blockchain, we believe that quantum computing will provide the next powerful set of services delivered via the IBM Cloud platform, and promises to be the next major technology that has the potential to drive a new era of innovation across industries.”

IBM intends to build IBM Q systems to expand the application domain of quantum computing. A key metric will be the power of a quantum computer expressed by the “Quantum Volume”, which includes the number of qubits, quality of quantum operations, qubit connectivity and parallelism. As a first step to increase Quantum Volume, IBM aims at constructing commercial IBM Q systems with ~50 qubits in the next few years to demonstrate capabilities beyond today’s classical systems, and plans to collaborate with key industry partners to develop applications that exploit the quantum speedup of the systems.

IBM Q systems will be designed to tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical computing systems to handle. One of the first and most promising applications for quantum computing will be in the area of chemistry. Even for simple molecules like caffeine, the number of quantum states in the molecule can be astoundingly large – so large that all the conventional computing memory and processing power scientists could ever build could not handle the problem.

IBM’s scientists have developed techniques to efficiently explore the simulation of chemistry problems on quantum processors (https://arxiv.org/abs/1701.08213 and https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.02058) and experimental demonstrations of various molecules are in progress. In the future, the goal will be to scale to even more complex molecules and try to predict chemical properties with higher precision than possible with classical computers.

Future applications of quantum computing may include:

  • Drug and Materials Discovery: Untangling the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions leading to the discovery of new medicines and materials;
  • Supply Chain & Logistics: Finding the optimal path across global systems of systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains, such as optimising fleet operations for deliveries during the holiday season;
  • Financial Services: Finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments;
  • Artificial Intelligence: Making facets of artificial intelligence such as machine learning much more powerful when data sets can be too big such as searching images or video; or
  • Cloud Security: Making cloud computing more secure by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety.

“Classical computers are extraordinarily powerful and will continue to advance and underpin everything we do in business and society. But there are many problems that will never be penetrated by a classical computer. To create knowledge from much greater depths of complexity, we need a quantum computer,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems. “We envision IBM Q systems working in concert with our portfolio of classical high-performance systems to address problems that are currently unsolvable, but hold tremendous untapped value.”

IBM’s roadmap to scale to practical quantum computers is based on a holistic approach to advancing all parts of the system. IBM will leverage its deep expertise in superconducting qubits, complex high performance system integration, and scalable nanofabrication processes from the semiconductor industry to help advance the quantum mechanical capabilities. Also, the developed software tools and environment will leverage IBM’s world-class mathematicians, computer scientists, and software and system engineers.

“As Richard Feynman said in 1981, ‘…if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical, and by golly it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy.’ This breakthrough technology has the potential to achieve transformational advancements in basic science, materials development, environmental and energy research, which are central to the missions of the Department of Energy (DOE),” said Steve Binkley, deputy director of science, US Department of Energy. “The DOE National Labs have always been at the forefront of new innovation, and we look forward to working with IBM to explore applications of their new quantum systems.”

Growing the IBM Q Ecosystem

IBM believes that collaborating and engaging with developers, programmers and university partners will be essential to the development and evolution of IBM’s quantum computing systems. Since its launch less than a year ago, about 40,000 users have run over 275,000 experiments on the IBM Quantum Experience. It has become an enablement tool for scientists in over 100 countries and, to date, 15 third-party research papers have been posted to arXiv with five published in leading journals based on experiments run on the Quantum Experience.

IBM has worked with academic institutions, such as MIT, the  Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

to leverage the IBM Quantum Experience as an educational tool for students. In collaboration with the European Physical Society, IBM Research – Zurich recently hosted students for a full-day workshop to learn how to experiment with qubits using the IBM Quantum Experience. 

“Unlocking the usefulness of quantum computing will require hands-on experience with real quantum computers,” said Isaac Chuang, professor of physics and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “For the Fall 2016 semester of the MITx Quantum Information Science II course, we featured IBM’s Quantum Experience as part of the online curriculum for over 1,800 participants from around the world. They were able to run experiments on IBM’s quantum processor and test out for themselves quantum computing principles and theories they were learning.”

In addition to working with developers and universities, IBM has been engaging with industrial partners to explore the potential applications of quantum computers. Any organisation interested in collaborating to explore quantum applications can apply for membership to the IBM Research Frontiers Institute, a consortium that develops and shares a portfolio of ground-breaking computing technologies and evaluates their business implications. Founding members of the Frontiers Institute include Samsung, JSR, Honda, Hitachi Metals, Canon, and Nagase.

“We heavily invest in R&D and have a strong interest in how emerging technologies such as quantum computing will impact the future of manufacturing,” said Nobu Koshiba, President of JSR, a leading chemical and materials company in Japan. “Our pipelines of innovations range from synthetic rubbers for tires to semiconductor and display materials, along with products in the life sciences, energy and environmental sectors. By having exposure to how quantum computing can provide new computational capability to accelerate materials discovery, we believe this technology could have a lasting impact on our industry and specifically our ability to provide faster solutions to our customers.”

For more information on IBM’s universal quantum computing efforts, visit www.ibm.com/ibmq. For more information on IBM Systems, visit www.ibm.com/systems.

IBM is making the specs for its new Quantum API available on GitHub (https://github.com/IBM/qiskit-api-py) and providing simple scripts (https://github.com/IBM/qiskit-sdk-py) to demonstrate how the API functions.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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