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By 12 June 2019 | Categories: news

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At its Think 2019 Summit today, held in Kyalami, IBM announced what it billed as being a major development – a new collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in South Africa that  will see the two join forces to expand IBM’s quantum computing efforts to Africa

Wits University is the first African partner on the IBM Q Network and will be the gateway for academics across South Africa and to the 15 universities who are part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

One of the reasons for the excitement around the announcement is that it means that South Africa wont be left behind as progress is made to explore the next frontier of computing – which is quantum computing. As well, IBM elaborated that having access to quantum computing on the continent will accelerate research and development, and enable researchers to better understand chemical reactions. As well, the company anticipates there being commercial applications for quantum computing as it advances.

More particularly, researchers at Wits will investigate the use of quantum computing and machine learning in the fields of cosmology and molecular biology with a specific focus on HIV drug discovery. The teams will also jointly study quantum teleportation, a field pioneered by IBM Fellow Charles Bennett.

The groundwork for the development is IBM’s establishment of  the IBM Q Network, a community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions and research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

“To expand the IBM Q Network to include Wits will drive innovation in frontier-technologies and benefit African-based researchers, academics and students,” enthused Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs.

 “Having access to IBM Q is pivotal for Wits University’s cross-disciplinary research program and allows our researchers in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and in the broad natural sciences, including in laser technology, quantum optics and molecular design, to leverage the next level of discovery research. It’s envisioned that the first results from this collaboration will be forthcoming in the next two years,” he continued.  

Two particular arenas that were highlighted as being ripe for quantum computing include understanding our universe, in conjunction with the Square Kilometre Array, which is located in South Africa and eight other African countries. The other cutting edge development is computing the genome, with Vilakazi  pointing out that the African genome is amongst the most complex in the world.

“For Africa to remain competitive for the coming decades we must get the next generation of students quantum ready,” added Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research - Africa.

To this end, IBM also announced that IBM Q is hosting an invite-only Qiskit Camp in South Africa this December for 200 quantum researchers and computer scientists where they will learn in an immersive environment and receive hands-on training.

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