- Quantum computing, which can quickly solve complex calculations, is gaining momentum on Wall Street.
- But the tech requires significant resources, holding some firms back from using it.
- IBM is pushing its quantum efforts, experimenting with firms like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Quantum computers might look like extravagant chandeliers, but they actually hold great potential. And IBM’s top quantum chief said Wall Street’s use of the tech is on the cusp of taking off.
Quantum computing unlocks the ability to execute big, complex calculations faster than traditional computers. It does so by leveraging quantum mechanics, which is a form of physics that runs on quantum bits, or qubits, rather than the traditional 1 and 0 that computers typically use.
For years, theoretical research has shown that while quantum computing can be beneficial, the cost for companies to deploy the tech has been too high to justify .
JPMorgan Chase, for example, has worked with IBM to use quantum to test an algorithm that predicted options prices, according to a 2019 IBM research blog.
IBM’s quantum computer required less data input, cutting down the number of samples for a given simulation from millions to a few thousand, IBM mathematician Dr. Stefan Woerner said at the time. With fewer samples, he said, computations could be done in near real-time, as opposed to overnight.
While the technology was tested successfully and is ready to use, the bank has kept the capability on the back burner. The resources required for the quantum machine made the classical computer a better, more efficient option, a bank spokesperson told Insider.
But that’ll soon change, according to IBM’s chief quantum exponent, Bob Sutor.
“When is quantum going to do something more for me than the systems I have already?” Sutor told Insider. “Within a few years we’ll start to see that.”
That’s because more people are starting to test quantum techniques. The more users, Sutor said, the more IBM — and others within its quantum network, including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo — can learn, iterate, and build off the rare instances when using quantum over a classical computer makes sense, financially.
IBM is working to increase quantum usage
In 2016 IBM put quantum on the cloud, and now has about 20 quantum computing systems accessible via the web, Sutor said. Half are free to use.
Roughly 325,000 people have registered to use the tech since 2016 and there are about 2 billion circuits (the tiny bits of code sent to the quantum hardware to run) executed daily, he added.
An open-source tool, called Qiskit, enables users to code in Python when using the cloud-based quantum computers, Sutor said, a coding language specifically chosen for its widespread use and deep roots within the data science and AI communities.
Meanwhile, IBM is making investments to grow the quantum team across scientists and developers, according to a spokesperson who declined to specify numbers. The company is also standing up a quantum computer in Tokyo this year and another on-premise quantum computer in Cleveland, Sutor said.
IBM’s quantum computers are getting bigger, too. The firm’s first quantum computer was a 5-qubit machine (the number and quality of qubits reflect the machine’s compute power). Now it has a machine with 65 qubits; by year end it will build a machine with 127 qubits; and by 2023, IBM will have a machine with more than 1,000 qubits, Sutor said.
Sutor said financial services companies are on the forefront of quantum exploration, adding that “their researchers are very hardcore when you’re talking about artificial intelligence and now quantum.”
Speed matters for financial institutions performing risk calculations or algorithmic trading, making a strong use case for quantum computing, Howard Boville, head of IBM’s hybrid cloud platform, told Insider.
“They’re always looking for milliseconds of advantage in terms of latency,” he said, referring to the financial firms tapping the technology.