5 minutes with IBM Research's Dr. Juan Bernabe Moreno

"I saw in quantum a way of achieving with AI things that you couldn't achieve with classical computing. With Quantum you could solve much more."
We spoke with Dr. Juan Bernabe Moreno, Director IBM Research Europe, UK & Ireland, about how AI and quantum computing can work to enhance sustainability

IBM has always sought to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI).

Dr. Juan Bernabe Moreno, Director IBM Research Europe, UK & Ireland, leads a world-class team of researchers across IBM labs to create what’s next in AI, quantum computing, multi-cloud and other cutting-edge technologies.

We spoke with Bernabe Moreno at IBM Research Zurich about what IBM is expecting for 2024, along with how AI can advance sustainability and digital transformation efforts. With more than 20 years of experience in the field of data and AI, he has consistently delivered large transformation programmes for leading European companies. 

He is also an active researcher and lectures on quantum applications and intelligent systems at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He has over 40 publications and is the recipient of several patents.

Please start by telling us about your background with IBM

I’ve been with IBM for less than two years - it's something very rare to join IBM research from the outside. Beforehand, I was working for E.ON Energy, as their Chief Data Officer.

I am a computer scientist by training. I completed my PhD while working on natural language processing (NLP) technologies. What brought me to IBM Research was that I was working with them in my previous job to start quantum for the energy world

And what brought me to IBM research was I was working with them in my previous job to start quantum for the energy world. The more we worked together, the more I realised that IBM Research was helping create the technologies that are shaping tomorrow’s world. And then I had the opportunity to join!

What I do at IBM Research as Director of Europe is that I am responsible for three labs: One in Dublin, Ireland, and two in the UK, Hursley and Daresbury. With the UK and Ireland, I wear a second hat, leading the climate and sustainability accelerated discovery strategy for the whole of IBM.

Can you speak about how your interest in AI and quantum has developed - how does that apply to your work now?

I first started as a computer scientist with the very first version of AI, which is like programming where you implement rules and see the system giving you a recommendation for a particular thing - we’re talking more than 30 years ago. 

As a result, I was new to quantum so I had to skill up. One of the reasons why I decided to do this (I'm now teaching at the Ludwig Maximilian University, for example), is because I saw in quantum a way of achieving with AI things that you couldn't achieve with classical computing. With Quantum you could solve much more. 

With AI, we never managed to solve as many problems, with AI - only approximations, and so on. So the convergence of both AI and quantum was the most fascinating piece, in my opinion and we are just scratching the surface. There is so much to come.

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How do you see AI and new technologies accelerating sustainability? and how it can accelerate sustainability as well.

We have very tangible examples of when we talk about sustainability. At least speaking for myself, we struggle in terms of understanding what sustainability is and how we can make it actionable. How can we track if some promises are kept? Can we measure what the Kenyan government is doing in terms of reforestation over time, for example?

The geospatial foundation model we have created [at IBM] is helping us quantify climate mitigating actions like reforestation, but also helping us understand how particular measures like putting up a fence can help. It’s very encouraging because, not only can you see masses of trees growing, you can also quantify how many gigatons of carbon you can capture over the years. 

So you make it tangible. That's probably one of my favourite aspects of what technology can do for sustainability.

What are some of the latest trends that you've uncovered in quantum theory or machine learning, and what IBM are working towards at the moment?

As a computer scientist, there are very rare moments where you see history happening. In quantum this year, we have managed to achieve one which we call quantum utility. We have entered the quantum utility era. 

Quantum utility is when you take a problem, and this case it was a small magnetisation problem, and we tasked one of our partners, the University of Berkeley to do their best classically, and we have taken the same problem. We map it to a quantum computer with our hardware today and we apply some error mitigation routines that we have created on top of our stack. These error mitigation routines are now available to everyone.

We were then in a position of showing better performance than the classic. So for the first time, we see for real, quantum utility beating ‘classic’ in this particular experiment. 

When we talk about quantum, we always talk about fault tolerance - having the perfect system with no computing errors. What we are doing now is trying to find, with our partners, more and more examples of this quantum utility - much broader and bigger examples of showing that the current quantum hardware is improving. Our operation routines can get us there.

Ahead of the quantum summit, what is the future in quantum looking like for IBM? What are some of your highlights?

First of all, how can we change our approach to build the hardware? Because we saw it classically, right? We started with bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger machines until we discovered that we needed to go modular. 

What we are doing now is working on modularity for quantum processing - but modularity means that you need to establish the connectivity between the units. So we first started looking at classical links, but in the future we will also see quantum communications happening between the units, which is quite challenging. There's a bit of research behind it, from the hardware perspective, that's probably one of my personal highlights. 

Another highlight probably is that I hope that we announce that we keep firmly implementing every milestone that we set ourselves in our roadmap.

You will see many companies working with [IBM] and many partners presenting quantum utility experiments already. That's going to be very refreshing - it's going to create a lot of momentum when more and more people see that. In this particular case, quantum: it's classic. So that's going to create a good vibe in the quantum community. 

There is so much happening at the same time and at such speed.

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Other magazines that may be of interest - AI Magazine | Cyber Magazine | Data Centre Magazine

Please also check out our upcoming event - Sustainability LIVE Net Zero on 6 and 7 March 2024.  

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