IBM has set a new goal for propelling the company ahead of its rivals: a quantum computer ready for commercial use, three years from now.
In an interview ahead of the company's Think conference, chief executive Arvind Krishna said IBM would have a more-than-4000 qubit quantum computer ready by 2025, a jump from its hardware with 127 qubits today.
He said the technology of that power could optimise routing truck fleets or better model financial risks.
A normal computer almost “the size of this planet” would be needed to tackle comparable problems, he said.
Little to show
Companies for years have touted quantum computing's potential, with little to show for it beyond error-prone machines and basic applications with early clients.
IBM's include Exxon Mobil and Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings.
Krishna said that he was avoiding claims that IBM cannot fulfil after what he called the company's "error" predicting uses prematurely for its Watson artificial intelligence (AI) services, which delivered results in healthcare and other fields slower than expected.
He said making quantum systems was more difficult than developing AI.
"We might have hyped some things," Krishna said. "This time, we try to tread the line carefully."
"Would I look you in the eye and tell you I'm going to find a molecule that penetrates the blood-brain barrier and solves brain cancer? Absolutely not,” he added, referring to efforts to discover new drugs via quantum computing.
But Krishna said that the machine expected in 2025 with thousands of qubits will at least begin to open practical and commercial opportunities.
Governments and companies globally will invest nearly US$16.4 billion (A$23.6 billion) in quantum development by the end of 2027, according to market research company IDC.
Rival Google has aimed to develop a computer with 1,000,000 qubits by the end of this decade.
Amazon.com has partnered with companies such as Rigetti Computing, which expects to reach 4000 qubits in 2026.
Krishna said while supply-chain disruptions have not slowed IBM's efforts, the company experienced a 0.5 percent to one percent impact on its overall hardware business from Covid-19 lockdowns in China.
IBM now keeps six months' worth of stock instead of just one to counter disruptions, he said.