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Japan's first leading-edge quantum computer to be installed this year

This photo shows IBM Corp.'s quantum computer that will be installed at Kawasaki Business Incubation Center in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of IBM Japan Ltd.)

TOKYO -- Japan will be getting its first leading-edge quantum computer this year.

    IBM Japan Ltd. announced on March 23 that the computer made by its U.S. parent IBM Corp. will be installed at Kawasaki Business Incubation Center (KBIC) in the city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo. It will be in place within a few months, and will be in operation by the end of the year. The University of Tokyo, which holds exclusive access rights, will seek to put the machine to practical tasks in cooperation with companies through a dedicated consortium.

    Quantum computers use quanta -- such as light -- which have the characteristics of both waves and particles, and can make multiple calculations simultaneously using a completely different process from conventional computers. It is expected to be used for purposes including developing new drugs and materials, and managing assets. Japan's first machine will be a "gate-model quantum computer," which theoretically has very broad applications. IBM and Google LLC are both developing this type of computer.

    The University of Tokyo signed a partnership with IBM Japan in December 2019, and established the Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium in July 2020 to turn quantum computers to practical use through the cooperation of government, industry and academia. The two universities and 12 companies that make up the consortium include Keio University, Toshiba Corp., Mitsubishi Chemical Holding Corp. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. The consortium members will be able to access the quantum computer in Kawasaki through cloud technology.

    IBM Corp. currently has more than 30 quantum computers in New York, and at least 140 companies and universities around the world access them through cloud technology. Many members of the Japanese consortium have also used the New York machines, but they are forced to compete for time on the systems with people around the world, limiting access periods. When the quantum computer has been installed in Japan, the consortium members will be able to use it for their research for longer stretches.

    Hiroaki Aihara, the consortium's project leader and vice president of the University of Tokyo, said, "It's overwhelmingly advantageous to be able to get a lot of time on a cutting-edge computer. We want to develop quantum computer apps through industry-academia cooperation and accelerate the technology's use." Outside Japan, another quantum computer is set to enter operation in Germany in 2021.

    KBIC is a research and development office space equipped with labs for start-ups. IBM Japan also uses the facility as a research center.

    (Japanese original by Mayumi Nobuta, Science & Environment News Department)

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