IBM today announced it is installing a quantum computer at the Cleveland Clinic, marking the first time the company has physically placed this next-generation system on the premises of a private sector client.
The move marks yet another step forward for quantum computing. It comes as part of a broader 10-year partnership between IBM and the clinic that includes hybrid cloud service and AI.
According to IBM Quantum Network director Dr. Anthony J. Annunziata, including a quantum computer as part of that suite of tools is critical because the company wants to understand which tasks are best suited to quantum computations. Despite rapid advances, quantum computers are still in their infancy, but it’s still possible they could be more efficient at limited tasks.
“The Cleveland Clinic will have the full capacity of a quantum system we purpose-built for them,” Annunziata said. “We’ll have a much better ability to integrate it into their existing infrastructure. There will be benefits in doing that as we figure out how quantum can address these really tough problems and also how it can accelerate the application of AI.”
The partners have dubbed the program the Discovery Accelerator, and its overall goal is to power new breakthroughs in health care and life sciences. IBM’s computing tools are being leveraged to better harness the clinic’s wealth of data, including “genomics, single-cell transcriptomics, population health, clinical applications, and chemical and drug discovery,” according to a press release.
The eye-catching part of the announcement, however, is the move to physically place a quantum computer at the clinic. Until now, the company has been focused on its IBM Q Network, a consortium of research and business partners who can experiment with quantum computing via a cloud-based service. IBM has grown increasingly optimistic about quantum’s potential and has laid out an ambitious timetable for expanding commercial applications.
That will now include its first on-premises Quantum System One in the United States outside of an IBM computation center. IBM currently has a quantum computer on its own campus, as well as one at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute and the University of Tokyo. The Cleveland Clinic is the first private sector client and the first in the U.S.
Annunziata said the clinic will make for a good first private partner, thanks to its recently announced Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health. The new center will assemble teams to focus on viral pathogens, virus-induced cancers, genomics, immunology, and immunotherapies.
“If there is anything that we can do as a technology partner to help institutions with the mission to advance life sciences and health care, we’re very happy to do it,” he said.
In many cases, researchers feel progress in these areas is being limited by the ability to gather and analyze massive datasets. The clinic is betting that a system that combines AI, quantum computing, and hybrid
cloud technologies will remove those hurdles and unleash new health care innovation.
Annunziata said part of the work will be to learn just where quantum computing sits in that computing system. Quantum is not robust enough to replace all computing functions. And even in many best-case scenarios, researchers believe quantum computing will be best suited for particular functions.
Health care has long been touted as a strong potential use case. Quantum proponents are betting that such computers will be able to develop more sophisticated models of the human body, allowing for the development of better hypotheses for designing experiments, as well as models that speed the testing of new drugs.
The key is learning which tasks in the Cleveland system can be offloaded to the quantum computer — with the results then fed back into the classic computing architecture, Annunziata said.
At the same time, the Cleveland Clinic partnership will provide an opportunity to train a quantum workforce for the coming years as more commercial partners look for such skillsets.