International Business Machines Corp. is starting up so-called camps across Africa to train hundreds of engineers and scientists in quantum coding, an experimental science being researched to succeed current computer-processor technology, as the U.S. tech giant readies to take hold of commercial opportunities on the continent.
“IBM is investing to build capacity in quantum computing on the continent, and enter additional research opportunities in quantum fields,” Solomon Assefa, IBM’s vice president for Africa and emerging-markets research, said by phone. IBM wants to “figure out potential commercial applications and activate skills and research in the private sector in Africa,” he said.
IBM is working on bringing quantum computing to commercial applications; Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty recently said the company expects revenues from this to come through as soon as 2021. The tech giant is locked in a race with Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and others in building machines that businesses can use to solve difficult real-world problems currently beyond the reach of the most powerful conventional supercomputers.
“Africa has largely been left out of the industrial revolution, and many technology developments,” said Zeblon Vilakazi, the deputy vice chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which will assist IBM with the training camps. “This has seen the continent fall behind in some instances, and with this partnership we want to avoid that happening again with quantum computing.”
IBM is making an early move to get Africa “quantum ready.” Immediate plans include training 200 Africans students in quantum coding in the next few months in South Africa, where about people 40% of people aged 15 to 34 are unemployed. Students from various African countries are being considered for the first take-in, and in due time additional camps will be set up across the continent and hosted by 15 African universities.
IBM introduced a quantum-computing system geared for commercial and scientific use at the CES trade show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Known as IBM Q System One, it may one day be used to find new ways to model financial data or optimize fleet operations for deliveries, according to a statement from the company.
“When IBM considers a country like South Africa, with an advanced insurance, financial and banking sector, we expect them to be an early adopter of practical quantum-computing applications,” said Assefa. “We want to be ready when this happens.”