What’s quantum computing and what might it imply for Cleveland?


CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Clinic and IBM’s 10-year quantum computing partnership is the type of project economic development officials have longed for for years, with the potential for Cleveland to be the site of significant scientific advancement.

Quantum computing is still a rapidly evolving technology, although researchers have been discussing the concept for decades. The promises are amazing – the ability to simulate complicated physical and chemical processes and crunch numbers faster than any supercomputer. The draw for the IBM-Cleveland Clinic’s Discovery Accelerator is the potential of the technology, not so much what it can offer now.

The partnership could eventually turn Cleveland into a location for a 1,000-qubit computer, a milestone in quantum computing. Researchers will study how quantum computers interact with other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to solve problems in healthcare. The clinic’s global center for pathogen research and human health, which houses the accelerator, will employ around 7,500 people.

“The partnership is not just based on technology,” said Dr. Lara Jehi, Chief Research Information Officer at the Cleveland Clinic. “Technology is a tool to achieve a goal, and the goal is to advance discovery. That is why we have the big component for education and human resource development that is included in the partnership. “

John Donohue, senior manager of scientific research at the University of Waterloo’s Quantum Computing Institute, said the quantum computing field has “exploded” into an international effort in the past 30 years, moving from a “pie in the sky” idea. to something more tangible.

“One of the bigger problems people have with quantum computing is reaching out to people in industry and getting people on the ground floor to raise awareness of the technology and build expertise about the technology in people who, as you know, they have the knowledge of the problems their industry is facing and prepare people for when the hardware catches up, ”he said. “People always say it’s 20 years away, but it’s accelerating very quickly.”

What is a quantum computer?

Quantum computers do not replace the PC, laptop or telephone that people use every day. The two types of technology, although they have the term “computer” in common, are intended for very different purposes. Quantum computers that are large and shaped like chandeliers are not going to be a staple for the average home.

Typical everyday computers use “bits” or ones and zeros to compose information. That means being on or off. Every process on a computer is made up of these bits. Even the most advanced supercomputer still relies on ones and zeros, which limits computing speed.

“The easiest way to think about it is that nature and the universe are one big computer,” said Bob Sutor, chief quantum exponent at IBM. “It’s a computer that manages everything around us, from every electron to atom to molecule, and how everything fits together, chemistry, biochemistry, plays a role in physics. But that’s not how we built computers. “

Quantum Computing is based on atomic pieces called “qubits” that are one and zero at the same time. This is pronounced “cue bit”.

Since they don’t land on a one or a zero, creating qubits can help replicate complicated processes at the molecular level.

“We’re trying to understand how nature works as a computer and then replicate and use its computing functions for our own reasons,” Sutor said.

He uses the example of chemistry with a caffeine molecule. A quantum computer could simulate all the molecular reactions of this caffeine molecule, like the reactions that take place in the human brain.

Quantum computing doesn’t make regular computers obsolete. This type of technology is not intended to perform the same functions as a laptop or phone. What quantum computers can potentially do, however, is key to research and, given its power, shows promise in other areas such as cryptology and finance.

The quantum computer is enclosed in a glass box, and the chandelier shape holds the qubits in the core. The outer tubes and devices connected to the core serve numerous functions as the machine must be extremely stable as researchers send pulses to manipulate the qubits.

Quantum environments have to be cold – the System One computer that will be housed in the clinic uses cryogenics to keep it cold and isolated. All variables such as heat or noise can turn off the system.

How do you create qubits?

Scientists use various methods to create qubits, which essentially mean gaining control over these very small, unstable pieces of atoms. Create an access point to control how these parts interact or rotate may involve the use of magnets, lights, or other approaches. The more qubits, the more power and ability for quantum machines to perform such calculations.

As part of a “roadmap” for quantum computers, IBM wants to create a quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits by 2023.

As part of this partnership, the Cleveland Clinic is the first private company in which IBM will use its current quantum computer on site. The planned 1,000 qubit computer would also go to a location in Cleveland, although a press release on the project does not specify where other than a “client facility”.

What is quantum computing currently used for?

Research and development is the main application for quantum computing. The short-term applications are in experimental calculations or technical areas such as physics or chemistry, where people look at these interactions very closely.

For example, researchers from IBM and the parent company of Mercedes-Benz published a paper in which quantum computers replicated processes in lithium molecules in batteries that could have implications for the future of electric cars.

The Federal Ministry of Energy is interested in the future of the quantum computer; There are five national research centers for quantum information science supported by the federal government. There was also a national quantum initiative bill, passed in 2018, that created a roof under which government agencies could set up research centers for quantum computers.

The law also established the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, a partnership between state, private and public institutions in the field of quantum computing. IBM has signed the partnership and is part of the steering committee.

What could quantum computers be used for?

Possible applications are nuclear science, logistics, cryptography and sensors. The Discovery Accelerator in Cleveland makes it possible for the clinic Center for Global and Emerging Pathogen Research use the technology to address his research areas in health care. The ability of quantum computers to Simulating interactions could help model pathogens to support research.

Part of running a quantum computer on-site is having access to its potential. The quantum computer on the Cleveland Clinic campus will not be able to immediately solve all of the problems researchers are thinking of. Building his skills and trying out these new applications is part of the process that will move the field forward.

There are two areas in which quantum computers need to be built: capacity and stability.

The capacity increases the number of qubits. Researchers need to maintain control over qubits – a difficult task.

When computers first came on, they used vacuum tubes instead of transistors, a staple in computers. Parts broke every 36 hours, Sutor said, but that wasn’t a comment on the future of technology.

“When we talk about the stability of quantum computers, it’s exactly the same idea: the hardware as we are currently configuring it works for a while, and then it gets a little crazy.” he said. “So the first is how much we can do in this ‘while’ and these will be the early applications.”

To talk about long term applications, engineers need to implement “fault tolerance” or “error correction” built into today’s computers. That is, if there is a problem in the circuitry, the calculation can still be carried out.

Are quantum computers better than regular computers?

They are used for various problems. One of the main tasks in recent years has been to prove “quantum superiority” or that a quantum computer can perform a calculation better than a normal computer.

A paper published in Nature in 2019 shows that a team of researchers achieved quantum superiority for a calculation. The quantum superiority has yet to be consistent. The team, led by a scientist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Google, performed the calculation on a 53 qubit chip.

For context, researchers in the Nature article said that the quantum computer solved a computation that would take a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years.

What does the new partnership mean for Cleveland and Ohio?

The lab includes not only quantum computers, but also artificial intelligence and other IBM software. It’s part of the Center for Global and Emerging Pathogen Research founded as part of the Cleveland Innovation District, a partnership between leading health and education institutions in the Cleveland area.

“The quantum computing partnership between the Cleveland Clinic and IBM is a great example of the type of innovation partnerships needed to accelerate research and technology development to meet human health needs,” said Baiju R. Shah, new president and CEO of GCP.

The number of people being taught about quantum computers or other technologies as part of the accelerator is not immediately clear, and an IBM spokeswoman had no further information about the educational programs.

The idea is to build a long-term chain in which the IBM educational programs train people in quantum computing and then fill positions with these people.

How the clinic and IBM use the computer could affect future opportunities. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, researchers are inviting vendors to show them how they’d use the technology, said Travis Humble, assistant director of the Quantum Science Center.

“We learn from their experience, you know what works and what doesn’t,” said Humble. “I’m telling you now that one of the most important things to learn is that it takes a lot of different disciplines to get the best solutions. Imagine building a house – you can’t just have a carpenter or a plumber or just a bricklayer – it takes all of those skills to build something really sturdy. The same goes for quantum computers. “

Cleveland.com reporter Julie Washington contributed to this story.