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IBM Expands Quantum Computing Program to Africa

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Global ICT giant IBM has announced the expansion of its quantum computing efforts to Africa in a new collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in South Africa.

Wits University is the first African partner on the IBM Q Network and will act as the gateway not only for academics across South Africa but also those from 15 universities across Africa that are part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

"This is the latest outcome of the joint partnership between IBM Research and Wits, which started in 2016 when IBM opened its second lab in Africa at the Wits University's Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg," said professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs, in an official announcement about the tie-up.

"To expand the IBM Q Network to include Wits will drive innovation in frontier-technologies and benefit African-based researchers, academics and students who now have access to decades of quantum computing capabilities at the click of a button," he added.

According to IBM, quantum computing promises to be able to solve problems like chemical simulations and types of optimization that will be beyond the practical reach of mainstream machines. IBM first made quantum computers available to the public in May 2016 through its IBM Q Experience quantum cloud service and has doubled the power of its quantum computers annually since 2017.

IBM Q is an industry-first initiative to build commercial universal quantum systems for business and science applications. IBM also established 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.

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.

"For Africa to remain competitive for the coming decades we must get the next generation of students quantum ready," noted Dr. Solomon Assefa, VP for emerging market solutions and director at IBM Research Africa.

Dr. Solomon Assefa, VP for emerging market solutions at IBM Research Africa, and professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs.
Dr. Solomon Assefa, VP for emerging market solutions at IBM Research Africa, and professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits deputy vice-chancellor for research and postgraduate affairs.

As part of the partnership between IBM and Wits, scholars from 15 ARUA universities will have the opportunity to apply for access to IBM Q's most advanced quantum computing systems and software for teaching quantum information science and exploring early applications.

The universities are: Addis Ababa University; University of Ghana; University of Nairobi; University of Lagos; University of Ibadan; Obafemi Awolowo University lle-Ife; University of Rwanda; University Cheikh Anta Diop; University of Cape Town; University of Kwa-Zulu Natal; University of Pretoria; Rhodes University; University of Stellenbosch; University of Dar es Salaam and Makerere University.

"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," added Vilakazi.

To further increase skills development, IBM Q is also hosting an invite-only Qiskit Camp in South Africa in December 2019 for 200 quantum researchers and computer scientists where they will learn in an immersive environment and receive hands-on training.

— The staff, Connecting Africa

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