U of C to develop quantum supercomputer with Google, IBM and University of Tokyo

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The University of Chicago has formed a partnership with Google, IBM and the University of Tokyo to develop a supercomputer powered by quantum technology.

IBM pledged $100 million toward the project, and Google is to spend $50 million, on technology that could transform computing and information networks. Quantum computing, which is in its infancy, potentially could solve complex problems quickly, beyond the ability of conventional computing.

The school formalized the agreements Sunday at the Group of Seven Summit of world leaders in Japan.

One project calls for a 10-year, $100 million plan with IBM and the two universities to develop blueprints for building a quantum-centric supercomputer powered by 100,000 qubits. Qubits are the basic units of information in quantum computing at the subatomic level, similar to the role of bits in classical computing.

The second agreement is a partnership between the universities and Google, with Google investing up to $50 million over 10 years, to accelerate the development of a fault-tolerant quantum computer and to help train the quantum workforce of the future.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, now the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, helped launch the deal by bringing together the corporate investors and the two universities, each of which have quantum computing programs. Quantum computing uses the sometimes paradoxical properties of sub-atomic particles to make exponential leaps in computing potential.

“Quantum-centric supercomputing taps modular architectures and quantum communication, and is how IBM plans to scale quantum computing,” said Jay Gambetta, IBM fellow and vice president of IBM Quantum. The work will include developing a hybrid quantum and classical computing cloud and minimizing errors.

Quantum computing, scientists hope, could help address many complex problems, such as identifying molecules for new medicines, advancing computer encryption and designing sustainable solutions for energy.

The underlying technologies don’t even exist yet, but Juan de Pablo, the University of Chicago’s executive vice president for science, innovation, national laboratories and global initiatives, called the project “an extraordinary grand challenge” for humanity.