IBM promises a 4,000 qubit quantum computer by 2025: Here's what it means

When will quantum computing move beyond experimentation? IBM CEO Arvind Krishna gives his predictions and explains how IBM intends to deliver quantum computing services to the market.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Two years after unveiling its quantum roadmap, IBM is keeping pace with its goals, the company said Tuesday -- and it has new plans to deliver a 4,000+ qubit quantum computer by 2025. That progress will move quantum computing beyond the experimentation phase by 2025, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said this week to reporters. 

For some simple use cases, organizations should be able to deploy quantum computers "in the 2023 to 2025 time frame," Krishna said ahead of the annual IBM Think conference in Boston. That means he explained, that electric vehicle makers could use quantum computers to analyze materials like lithium hydride to develop better batteries, or they could analyze allows for lighter weight but stronger vehicles. Other companies, meanwhile, could use quantum for simple optimization use cases, like optimizing search engines.  

"As we begin to get to 4,000 qubits, a lot of these problems become within reach of quantum computers," Krishna said. 

Meanwhile, the CEO said more complex quantum computing problems could be solved a few years later. Pharmaceutical companies, for instance, could see advantages by 2025 or 2030, he said. 

"If you think about pharmaceutical drugs... that's probably going to be a little bit later," he said, adding that IBM is in "deep discussion with a few of those biotech companies."

"Covid vaccines have taught many of them that computation, as applied to medicine, can make things happen a lot quicker," Krishna continued. "They've all woken up to what computation can achieve. You can imagine some of them might be thinking a bit further to say, 'What can we do with quantum?'"

Back in 2020, IBM said it would deliver a 1,121-qubit device in 2023, as well as components and cooling systems. The company also released images of a 6-foot wide and 12-foot high cooling system being built to house a 1,121-qubit processor called IBM Quantum Condor. According to IBM, the goal is to build a million-qubit quantum system. The company said it views the 1,000-qubit mark as a tipping point to overcome the hurdles limiting the commercialization of quantum systems.

While building Condor, IBM last year announced Eagle, a 127-qubit processor. Later this year, IBM expects to unveil its 433-qubit processor called Osprey.

"To get to 4,000 [qubits], there's quite a few problems we have to solve," Krishna said. "How do you begin to scale these systems? How do you communicate amongst them? How do you get the software to scale and work from a cloud into these computers? These are all the problems we believe we have a line of sight to... so we have high confidence in our 2025 timeline."

In addition to working on physical quantum computers, IBM in 2023 will continue to improve development with Qiskit Runtime, its open source software that allows users to interact with quantum computers. It's also building workflows right into the cloud to a serverless approach into IBM's core quantum software stack. 

Krishna said IBM is likely to be "open to all of the approaches" to delivering quantum computing, including selling it as a machine, delivering it as a managed service to customers, or delivering it as an on-premise service.

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