A conversation with experts and entrepreneurs on the future of quantum computing

Carly Anderson

In this week’s episode of the Prime Movers Lab webinar series, we spoke with quantum technology expert Tatjana Curcic and two brilliant quantum entrepreneurs: Jonathan King of Atom Computing, and Jan Goetz of IQM Quantum Computers, to understand what the excitement over quantum computing is all about.

[Click the link above to play the video]

  • Dr. Tatjana Curcic has worked on quantum information technologies for decades, and is currently a DARPA Program Manager. At DARPA, she manages Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) processor development — finding useful things we can do with quantum computing technology in it’s current “noisy intermediate” state. Among her many roles and accomplishments, she managed quantum technology programs at the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), and was a founding director of Quantum Valley Ideas Laboratories. Her interests include quantum sensing, atomic clocks, metrology, networks, quantum simulation, and quantum computing.
  • Dr. Jonathan King is a Co-founder and Lead Scientist at Atom Computing, a Berkeley CA-based startup company that is building scalable quantum computers out of individual atoms. Atom Computing uses lasers to manipulate neutral (uncharged) atoms so they behave as qubits.
  • Dr. Jan Goetz is the Co-founder and CEO of IQM Quantum Computers, which specializes in the development of high-speed quantum computers using superconducting qubits. IQM is leading the private side of Finland’s quantum computing project.

Here are just a few highlights and things I learned from our panelists’ responses.

  • Quantum computers aren’t faster than today’s classical computers. But for some applications, you can do more with a few quantum bits (or “qubits”) than with many, many normal bits. Quantum computers can solve some types of large, complex problems with far less computational power.
  • While using less computational resources is great, the REAL reason that quantum computers are exciting is that they can solve some problems that are IMPOSSIBLE with current computers. Shor’s Algorithm was the first time people had realized this, and it really ignited the field of quantum computing.
  • What will be the first problem solved by quantum computers? Jan predicts financial operations, or chemistry. Eventually, quantum computers will solve optimization problems to improve practical matters, like traffic management. Rather than being the centerpiece in a Jetsons-style workplace, quantum computing will someday impact many aspects of our lives without us noticing.
  • Given trends in how we access computing power today, quantum computers will mostly live in supercomputing clusters. Initial quantum computers will likely be designed to solve specific problems, rather than being universal computers. Similarly, “quantum accelerators” have been proposed — part of a program is sent to a quantum computing core, while classical computer cores run the rest of the code. Chemical companies, materials companies and pharmaceutical companies already make use of high-performance computing facilities and will be early adopters.
  • As a counterpoint, history is littered with high-performance computing companies that have failed — Deck and Cree for example. Even the experts still don’t really know what quantum computers will be used for, or what the market size will be. In the near term, quantum computers are mostly being used by major companies for research and exploration. (The price tag of today’s quantum computers is north of $20mm.)
  • For quantum computers to really take off, we need more qubits with fewer ERRORS. Quantum computers are special because of the correlations between quantum states. Any noise in the system destroys the correlations between qubits, and creates error. Noise can be temperature, perturbations in the laser beam, or radiowaves. Quantum engineers are fighting an epic battle against noise. Luckily the technological weapons they have are getting better and cheaper — laser technology, optical equipment, microwave generators, and other technologies based on quantum technologies. We also need talent!
  • We could have chatted for another hour about all the OTHER quantum technologies out there. One interesting quantum technology are atomic clocks — the best atomic clock is so precise that it would be off by a fraction of a second over the lifetime of the universe.
In quantum computing, the whether the cat is alive or dead is rather blurred…

If you’d like to dive deeper, several of the topics in webinar are also discussed our in recent blog posts on Quantum Computing and the Quantum Internet. A huge thank you again to our panelists for sharing their time and knowledge with the community — we are very grateful. Thank you for joining us in learning more about this space!

Note: In this post, I have done my best to paraphrase the panelists’ responses to questions while maintaining accuracy. All responsibility for errors made paraphrasing and summarizing this conversation is mine and not theirs! I encourage you to listen to the webinar for the full context and experience.

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