IBM working with students to make South Africa Quantum ready

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Back in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic put best laid plans into disarray, IBM announced a partnership with Wits University to launch a Quantum Computing Program for the African continent.

While our attention shifted to elements like remote working, a spike in cybercrime and general lockdown fatigue in 2020, IBM, Wits and 15 other universities in Africa continued with their focus on quantum computing and the potential it has in addressing local issues.

Examples of this include two students from Stellenbosch University, Unathi Skosana and Conrad Strydom, who are testing small scale quantum algorithms to understand the limitations of the quantum bits (qubits) due to noise and imperfections.

If that sounded too complicated to understand, the important thing to note is that the pair are hoping their findings will provide some answers about what is needed in processor performance for scaling up the algorithms for eventual applications in quantum chemistry for TB and HIV drug development.

Another Stellenbosch student, Hjalmar Rall, is looking at the aforementioned issue of increased cybersecurity, with a data breach in SA said to cost companies R40.2 million over average per instance.

Rall is using IBM’s quantum processors to generate quantum resources, or entangled states, to perform operations useful for networking protocols, with the goal to look at solutions that may help in developing South Africa’s future quantum communication infrastructure tactics.

IBM Q System One.

In order to help South Africa be more quantum ready and expand research happening in this field locally, Wits is currently offering an honours level module titled Full Stack Quantum Computing. It will make use of Qiskit and the IBM Quantum Experience to give software engineering students a foundation in quantum computing, opening up paths in the industry from there.

Looking to later in the year, the IBM South African quantum team is busy putting together a Quantum Challenge for African developers. The company explains that initiatives like this will prove crucial as emerging technologies are seen to play a vital part in shaping the digitally-driven economic transformation.

“Programmes like this are important in ensuring that South Africa won’t be left behind as progress is made to explore the next frontier of computing – which is quantum computing,” adds IBM in a press release sent to Hypertext.

“This is pivotal for Africa to remain competitive for the coming decades, initiatives like this will assist in getting the next generation of students quantum ready, to enable researchers to better understand chemical reactions, that will drive innovation and solve societal challenges,” it concludes.

With some exciting developments in this space locally, it will be interesting to see what 2021 holds on that front and whether SA can indeed become quantum ready.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Editor of Hypertext. Covers smartphones, IoT, 5G, cloud computing and a few things in between. Also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games when not taking the hatchet to stories.

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