Charles Bennett of IBM Research is one of the
founding fathers of quantum information theory.
His work at IBM helped create a theoretical
foundation for quantum computing.
by crunching through data more
Yet only now, after decades of
gradual progress, are researchers
finally close to building quantum
computers powerful enough to do
things that conventional computers cannot. It’s a landmark somewhat theatrically dubbed “quantum
supremacy.” Google has been leading the charge toward this milestone, while Intel and Microsoft also
have significant quantum efforts.
And then there are well-funded
startups including Rigetti Computing, IonQ, and Quantum Circuits.
No other contender can match
IBM’s pedigree in this area, though.
Starting 50 years ago, the company
produced advances in materials science that laid the foundations for
the computer revolution. Which is
why, last October, I found myself at
IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research
Center to try to answer these questions: What, if anything, will a
quantum computer be good for?
And can a practical, reliable one
even be built?
Why we think we
need a quantum computer
The research center, located in
Yorktown Heights, looks a bit
like a flying saucer as imagined
in 1961. It was designed by the
neo-futurist architect Eero Saarinen and built during IBM’s heyday as a maker of large mainframe
business machines. IBM was the
world’s largest computer company,
and within a decade of the research
center’s construction it had become
the world’s fifth-largest company
of any kind, just behind Ford and
While the hallways of the building look out onto the countryside,