IBM TechXchange Day 1 – It’s Quantum Baby!
On the back of Storm Isha, I flew out to Barcelona on Monday morning via Schiphol (Amsterdam) in the Netherlands. Slightly concerned that I’d need a chainsaw to get out of the village – but not comfortable leaving it in the back of the car at the airport for 4 days, so pleased to say that the wonkiest trees in Norfolk surprised me and all stayed upright. Good flight over to the Netherlands, and the usual fun of getting lost in Schiphol, passport control, etc. But both me and my luggage arrived in Barcelona unscathed and I took the Metro (really nice) into the city and on to Glories and then getting lost again – I should really ignore fruit maps and put something Googley on my phone – before finding the hotel.
Tuesday morning and a walk down the Avinguda Diagnoal to the CCIB conference centre. Coffee and catching up with the rest of the team – Rob Gould, Mark Gillis, Iqbal Goralwalla and John Campbell. Some comparing of notes – lots of good stuff on the IDUG track, which for some reason wasn’t on the conference planner – but I really wanted to have a proper look at IBM’s Quantum offering. Before all of that, the keynote was introduced by a drumming band (picture 1) – raised the tempo (sorry) before a welcome and then an introduction to watson x from some fairly senior IBMers.
A quick coffee and then off to the first presentation. On the way, we spotted the IBM Champion wall (picture 2) and managed to find our names. Just in the process of getting a bit carried away about seeing my name up there, but was brought down to Earth by two colleagues from Lloyds Banking Group (Craig and Jackson).
Session 1 on the Quantum stream was an introduction to the learning materials available on the IBM Quantum website and an overview of the programs being run (advocacy, Spring Challenge, Qiskit Global Summer School, etc). Marcel Pfaffhauser also spoke about the Qiskit community and ecosystem, and some of the goals the IBM group have set themselves to achieve for 2024 as part of their roadmap to Quantum Utility or genuine commercial platforming. Because the technology is so different from classical computing, and the research / development phase still building out, there is a steep learning curve. The IBM Quantum Learning site (https://learning.quantum.ibm.com/) is a great place to get started. As well as courses and tutorials (all free), you’ll find links to John Watrous’ videos and some useful tools (Quantum Composer and Quantum Lab) – see later.
The next session was at the Quantum stand in the exhibition section – labelled as an “Ask Anything”, which is a bit dangerous if you know me. Really very useful, and lots of really good help without anyone having to resort to crayons!
Meet up with the guys again for lunch (picture 3) and then off to the next session, which was a lab introducing Qiskit and programming for a quantum computer. (picture 4) Great stuff and the integration between the Composer (Quantum circuit designer) and the Lab (Jupyter Notebook running tutorial examples) – essentially copying the generated Python from the designer into the Lab circuit definition – is pretty easy to use. Understanding the circuit design process is definitely going to take me a bit more time though!
The final session was really an introduction to some of the core elements of Quantum computing – qubits, simulation (especially the exponential memory cost), quantum utility (the breakthrough level) and favourite use cases – e.g. using classical supercomputing, factoring a 2048-bit prime number key would take millions of years, using a quantum computer with Shor’s algorithm would take hours, if not minutes.
What is the future of IT, I hear you ask? To quote Keanu Reeves (interview with Simon Mayo) – It’s Quantum Baby!