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This article was published on May 11, 2021

IBM Think 2021 kicks off with AI innovations and some interesting quantum news

Speed is the name of the game in 2021


IBM Think 2021 kicks off with AI innovations and some interesting quantum news
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

IBM today kicked off its annual THINK conference with a hefty dose of AI news and some tantalizing tidbits about the company’s current quantum computing endeavors.

We’ve got the skinny, but there’s a lot to get through so strap in and get comfy.

AI, AI, AI, and more AI

AutoSQL and Cloud Pak for Data: IBM’s touting a breakthrough in cloud-based database management. Basically, where businesses serve up answers to customer queries using cloud-managed AI databases, this will significantly speed things up.

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According to IBM, the new system gives answers to distributed queries “as much as 8x faster than previously and at nearly half the cost of other compared data warehouses.”

Per an IBM press release:

With the launch of AutoSQL, IBM Cloud Pak for Data now includes the highest-performing cloud data warehouse on the market (based on our benchmarking study) that can run seamlessly across any hybrid multi-cloud environment – including private clouds, on-premises and any public cloud.

Quick take: It’s tempting to call this a bit hyperbolic, but IBM’s brought receipts in the form of internal benchmarking. Anything that speeds up customer-facing AI is a boon for businesses and the people who use their products. Get more info here

Watson Orchestrate: The “no code” AI paradigm is picking up steam and this is a great example of how that can be useful. Orchestrate is an AI system designed to augment workflows for individuals.

According to IBM, it’s meant to be interactive and easy to use:

Requiring no IT skills to use, Watson Orchestrate enables professionals to initiate work in a very human way, using collaboration tools such as Slack and email in natural language. It also connects to popular business applications like Salesforce, SAP and Workday.

Quick take: I hate virtual assistants because they’re virtually useless. But this is integrated, not an external talking bot, so it looks like something that could legitimately accelerate workflows for people who tend to have a lot going on. There’s more info available here on IBM’s website.

Maximo Mobile: IBM recently launched this new mobile asset management platform for workers tied to infrastructure-scale jobs such as electric company employees or maintenance crews who work on bridges and roads.

Quick take: Ever wonder why it takes so long for the power to come back on after something goes wrong? According to that video, when it comes to the people who maintain large assets, fix our powerlines, and operate refineries, “as much as 15-20% of a technicians time can be spent on paperwork.”

That’s ridiculous!

Maximo Mobile is IBM’s solution to the data and asset management issues these large-scale operations face in the field. 

Mono2Micro: A common problem for businesses is figuring out how to get legacy applications into new-fangled AI systems.

Per IBM:

Mono2Micro uses AI developed by IBM Research to analyze large enterprise applications and provide recommendations on how to best adapt them for the move to cloud.

Quick take: This is simple, but brilliant. Basically, when it comes to integrating legacy AI applications into hybrid-cloud environments, the only option used to be manually changing the code. Now, with Mono2Micro, that process can be automated. This could make it more cost-effective to port your old apps than it is to build something new from the ground up. Check out more info here.

IBM also announced several new initiatives and more information on its $1 billion investment in its partner ecosystem, but most of these announcements were news we’d heard before.

[Read: 3 new technologies ecommerce brands can use to connect better with customers]

Quantum computing advances

Where things got real interesting is when IBM announced a new quantum computing breakthrough.

Qiskit software boosts: IBM today announced a 120X increase in quantum circuit processing speed thanks to IBM’s hyrbid-cloud solution.

Instead of storing data on the physical quantum computer – and thus necessitating more complex architecture and power requirements – IBM’s keeping things hybrid by enabling high-speed cloud-based data transfer via its Qiskit runtime.

Per IBM:

By introducing Qiskit Runtime, IBM is enabling quantum systems to run complex calculations such as chemical modeling and financial risk analysis in hours, instead of several weeks. To show the power of the software, IBM recently demonstrated how the lithium hydride molecule (LiH) could be modeled on a quantum device in nine hours, when previously it took 45 days.

Quick take: If we’re ever going to have a useful quantum computer, we need to scale the experimental builds we’re currently working with. IBM’s new Quiskit Runtime service offloads a portion of the process to the cloud so the quantum part of the computer can do what it does unfettered.

It’ll be a while before we see exactly what this means, but it’s reason for optimism in a field that already looks pretty bright. You can learn more here.

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