Quantum 2023-24: Five Questions to Ponder, Five Actions to Take Next Year

By John Russell

January 3, 2024

What a year – two new ~1000-qubit QPUs; two public Q companies have faced delisting pressure. Seems like the same boom-bust enthusiasm cycle for quantum computing has kept the conversation churning for a decade. It’s clear that making sense of the quantum information sciences (QIS) landscape doesn’t fit nicely into ten of anything anymore. What was a sparsely-populated discipline five years ago is now a densely-packed labyrinth of competing ideas, technologies, and players.

Here’s a brief 2023-2024 rewind and look-ahead with a few links to supporting articles; HPCwire published roughly 80 feature articles on QIS last year.

To make things interesting, the tougher questions lead the list below. They remind us that not all is sorted out in QIS. Then the five action items that follow remind us that despite the thorny issues remaining, it’s probably time to ante up, at least in a modest way, or risk having to play catch up.

Questions Up First – Some Interesting, Some Nagging, Some that won’t Go Away

  1. Do We Think On-Premise Quantum Deployment is Nearing?

Good question.

That’s what IonQ and QuEra suggest with their new offerings. After years of talk about dealing with exotic environments – think millikelvin dilution refrigerators – to produce quantum computing’s magic, a new crop of more manageable (perhaps) qubit modalities and eye-popping engineered “quantum enclosures/control racks” suggest it may be time for QC to migrate into traditional datacenters.

Indeed, Europe is heavily focused on integrating quantum into heterogeneous supercomputing centers. IBM’s latest complete system. IBM System Two, seems an engineering marvel. IonQ, QuEra’s, and Pasqal’s various plans for on-premise QC deployment are ambitious. We’ll need to see at least a few of these systems up and running, and not just in vendor HQs, as proof.

There’s even a build-your-own thread emerging with Ringette Computing new offering – its 9-qubit Novera QPU for direct sale to researchers. Starting at “$900,000 and shipping within 4-6 weeks”, it’s not cheap, but you can have the key components of a quantum system. As noted earlier this year, this an interesting gambit that might constitute a cautious toe-dip into a merchant QPU market. Would Intel follow? It’s got a QPU (tunnel Falls) and cryo-controller technology?

Here’s Rigetti’s brief summary of how the new QPU could be used:

  • “The Novera QPUimplements universal, gate-based quantum computing and can be used by quantum software and algorithm experts to prototype and test: (1) hybrid quantum algorithms, (2) characterization, calibration, and error mitigation, and (3) quantum error correction (QEC) experiments.
  • “Additionally, organizations looking to develop components of their quantum computing stack can leverage the Novera QPU to accelerate areas such as: (1) control electronics and software, (2) QEC decoders, (3) control optimization algorithms, (3) native gate architectures, and (4) measurement and calibration, and accompanying software.”

We’ll have to wait to see how the on-prem (let alone the BYO) market takes hold.

In his QC market update last month, Quantum watcher Bob Sorensen of Hyperion Research noted “Despite many of the current advantages to QC access via cloud…there will be an increasing interest by QC end users firms that will have any number of reasons to use an on-prem QC, including the need to protect proprietary information, speed tightly integrated hybrid quantum/classical algorithms, ensure 24/7 access to a specific machine, and likely in cases where QC usage is high, secure a lower cost set-up than a cloud access alternative.”

  1. How Confident are We that the Best Qubits are in Play?

Not very.

Except for a few superconducting qubit and photonic qubit shops (they’ve already spent a bundle), I’m not sure how confident the overall quantum computing community is in any single qubit modality. Maybe there won’t be a single dominant qubit type, although that’s generally how these things wind up. Whichever technology bakes in the best mix of cost, manufacturability, performance, and application wins the lion’s share.

Among the interesting less mainstream contenders are fluxonium qubits, cat qubits, molecule qubits, and of course, photon qubits have really yet to strut their stuff.

It’s a frothy expanding qubit zoo out there agrees Peter Chapman, CEO of IonQ. “[I] think that there’s other qubit modalities, longer term that might be better. It’s just that in the next five to 10 years, they’re not going to be where we are today. So, I’m happy to have the market to myself (neutral atom), sure, you know, for several years. But if you said to me 15 or 20 years from now, what qubit modality do you think I think you might be using? I don’t know, neutral atoms might be an interesting platform in that timeframe or something else.”

Implementing error correction/mitigation remains the big challenge but there’s been very steady progress.

LINKS:

  1. Can Europe Carve Out a Leadership Position in Quantum?

Time will tell but it sure looks that way. Europe writ large is acting like it can grab a share of the quantum computing technology leadership market in a way that it never really did in semiconductors. The recent rounds of U.K. and E.U. funding and announced quantum center development and systems procurement plans are evidence. Europe wants in. Oxford Circuits, Atos/Eviden (Qaptiva) IQM, Terra Quantum, Multiverse Computing, Munich Quantum Valley (regional effort), Alice & Bob, and others are ramping up.

Anders Dam Jensen

As Anders Dam Jensen, the Executive Director of the EuroHPC JU, which is overseeing the quantum initiative, told HPCwire:

“The EU is planning In June, the EuroHPC JU signed hosting agreements with six sites across Europe, in Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain, to host and operate EuroHPC quantum computers. With these agreements in place, we are preparing to procure these quantum computers, which will be integrated into existing supercomputers. Our priority is to ensure a diversity in European quantum technologies and architectures, providing European users access to diverse and complementary quantum technologies. As such, we are now preparing several distinct calls for tender and are in the process of defining and drafting technical specifications for each quantum computer.

“…The six new EuroHPC quantum computers will be integrated into existing supercomputers, for now functioning as accelerators for specific algorithms, similar to the current role of GPUs, which are able to perform certain operations more efficiently than general purpose processors.

“Such an approach will offer a novel interpretation of quantum computers as accelerator platforms in genuine HPC environments. Bringing this integration to life will of course require essential R&D developments to create a hybrid software stack that can effectively manage both HPC and quantum computing workloads. Additionally, the integration process will benefit from a close collaboration between the HPC operators and European Standardisation bodies.”

It will be interesting to see how regional rivals spur each other on and that includes China’s vigorous quantum development.

LINKS

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/11/08/whats-next-for-eurohpc-deep-dive-with-eurohpc-exec-dir-anders-dam-jensen/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/03/14/leibniz-qics-mission-to-coax-qubits-and-bits-to-work-together/

  1. What’s the (Real) Timeline to Quantum Advantage…and Does It Matter?

It matters. The question is how much does it matter? To that question there are as many answers as there are quantum-centric vendors.

DoD splashed a little cold water on near-term hopes, at least for its mission, at the recent Quantum Economic Development Consortium meeting (QEDC). “As many have noticed, our strategy right now is sort of wait and see. It seems like we need to graduate to something a little more proactive to understand what the implications of quantum computing are,” said John Burke, principal director of quantum science for Department of Defense.

But industry, not burdened by the DoD’s required stringent economies of scale, has a diverse view with many still seeing narrow quantum advantage applications on the near horizon – or here now says D-Wave – with full fault-tolerant QC still years off. What are your thoughts?

“Often you’ll hear quantum computing is complex and that we’re years away from actually being able to use quantum computers. But that’s FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – propagated by those in the industry that are years away from having quantum computers that can actually solve real world problems. That’s not the case with D-Wave. We chose a quantum path that has allowed us to get to commercial first, and years ahead of anybody else,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz a year ago.

Maybe.

Jay Gambetta of IBM said at its 2023 year-end summit, “We think of quantum supremacy or quantum advantage as a two-step process. The first step is to be able to run a quantum circuit that you cannot do with a brute force classical simulation. The next is to work out what quantum circuit you would run. I feel confident we’re in the first stage. We have succeeded [there]. We can run quantum circuits that are beyond brute force simulation.

“To actually achieve the second stage, quantum advantage, is actually really, really hard. Because when you’re comparing a quantum method to the best classical method that may use a different way of simulating the problem, it gets very hard to do that comparison. That’s actually where we see that you [can] use this as a tool for advancing science. It’s going to be a dialogue that goes back and forth between these domain experts on simulating one method using quantum computing, simulating another method using a classical approximation.” 

When and how QA will arrive, and whether its staggers in piece-meal or (nearly) whole cloth in the guise of fault-tolerant, systems is still an open question.

LINKS

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/12/19/dod-takes-a-long-view-of-quantum-computing/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/08/15/ionq-says-reaching-aq-64-will-be-a-chatgpt-moment-for-quantum-computing/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/12/04/ibm-quantum-summit-two-new-qpus-upgraded-qiskit-10-year-roadmap-and-more/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/quantum-computing-skeptics

https://www.hpcwire.com/2022/12/13/intel-quantum-wisdom-think-quantum-is-powerful-youre-right-think-it-will-happen-soon-youre-mistaken/

  1. Still Small, How Big can the QIS Market Get in 10 Years?

Not sure this is a compelling question. QIS can get to be big. Very Big. It’s not yet. Increasingly it seems the science and engineering challenges will be solved, and solved at an increasingly accelerated pace. There are too many smart folks working on it and too many worried governments stressing (and spending) over it.

“I think that a positive, if not robust, market projection is justified. The QC ecosystem is becoming more sophisticated and granular with increased opportunities from QC processor suppliers, targeted classical control system vendors, QC systems integrators, software orchestration firms, and a growing base of sector-specific QC applications developers. All that adds up to a more finely-tuned QC solution well suited to the particular requirements for any potential QC end user, making quantum computing a more attractive compute option going forward,” said Sorensen

Most observers agree. His overview chart is below. Also, don’t miss Heather West’s nice market breakdown chart, delivered at Tabor Communication’s (HPCwire parent) delivered at HPC and AI on Wall Street conference in the fall.

LINKS

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/12/07/quantum-market-though-small-will-grow-22-and-hit-1-5b-in-2026/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/11/27/analyst-panel-says-take-the-quantum-computing-plunge-now/

 

Things to Do Now – Looking Ahead to 2024

  1. Get Started

Despite the small market reality shown above, there’s growing consensus that the relative ease with which companies can start exploring quantum computing means the time to start is now. A few of the big (and a few small) online services providers – Amazon Braket, Google Quantum AI, Azure Quantum, Strangeworks– and major system vendors provide access to tools and systems themselves. Here’s two views:

  • “The barrier to entry in quantum is you sit down, you go to AWS or Strangeworks. You pick your cloud access model of choice, you sign up for a couple of bucks, you grab a couple of new hires that just came out of with a degree in quantum chemistry or something, and you go and you play, and you figure out how that’s going to work. So, the barriers to entry of quantum are amazing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if it wasn’t for cloud access, none of us would be sitting here vaguely interested in quantum; it’s what really is driving interest,” – Sorensen
  • “You don’t have to choose a partner. You don’t have to make that decision. In fact, I think it’d be a bad play to make that decision now. You can go to any of the CSP-based infrastructure providers (with quantum gateways) and say I want to run this job on a D-Wave system, I want to run this on IonQ, and I want to run on Rigetti Systems, and can do that rather seamlessly,” he said. “The interesting thing, and I’m an electrical engineer so I tend to look at things very pragmatically, is that right now, a lot of the software that’s running out there is quote-unquote, hardware-agnostic, which means you can run it on any (quantum) hardware you want. So again, you don’t have to make these choices yet, because it’s really too early to tell who’s going to win, who’s going to lose.” – Jay Boisseau, CEO Vizias.

Just don’t be impatient.

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/11/27/analyst-panel-says-take-the-quantum-computing-plunge-now/

  1. Track Early HPC-Quantum and Industry-Public Integration Efforts

We’ve mentioned Europe’s zeal for integrating QC and HPC earlier. Work at Leibniz QIC is leading some of those efforts.

“We are responsible for what we’re calling the Munich Quantum Software stack – that’s to be able to develop needed algorithms and software tools all the way through to running and managing applications on quantum resources and incorporating HPC. The HPC-QC integration is a big part of this. Also, we’ll develop this capability in a qubit-modality-agnostic way,” said Laura Schulz, head of Leibniz QIC, who was part of the team that wrote the strategic plan for the QIC.

Laura Schulz

“At the end of the day, our users should be able to utilize this technology with the simplest, cleanest path available. Some users will care about what system they’re actually on, and will want to be able to fine-tune the pulses on those quantum systems. Then you’ve got the other spectrum, users, like many HPC users, that are not going to care as much about what they’re computing on; they’re going to care more about getting the performance.”

Of course, there’s similar work at the U.S. National QIS Research Centers and industry collaboration led by QEDC (and a growing number of smaller regional hubs). There’s also a proposed program from NSF – National Quantum Virtual Laboratory (NQVL) to create a distributed quantum computing infrastructure (hardware and software) to provide much wider access to researchers across many domains. The idea is to jumpstart creation of needed resources, skill sets, use cases, and access for NSF researchers. There’s an NQVL management team made up of members from various NSF directorates (MPSTIPENGCISEBIO, and EDU).

These efforts are needed to jumpstart skills, best practices, tools, and to provide access to QPUs and simulators. Europe has a reputation for knitting industry-government programs closely but the U.S. isn’t a slouch, and its chase-the-profits mantra produces urgency. In any case, efforts are advancing to integrate HPC and quantum development in ways to speed and perhaps ease the path to results. Even DoD is beefing up its outreach programs:

LINKS

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/05/23/isc23-bof-euro-quantum-community-tackles-hpc-qc-integration-broad-user-access/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/03/14/leibniz-qics-mission-to-coax-qubits-and-bits-to-work-together/

  1. Build Your Team (or at least a Speed Dial) Now

Now is a good time to make friends. QIS is still a small community. What’s Ethernet co-inventor and 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe’s rule about the value of networking (dating myself here I know.) Anyway, his law, roughly, is “the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users or devices in the network.” It’s good thought. It’s work but pays off. Know some folks at QEDC, EPB Quantum Network, the NQI Research Centers, HPCwire/QCwire, and ask (nicely) to get on Oak Ridge National Lab’s weekly Quantum Computing Institute News distribution list. It’s a great compilation and excellent source. Look for those working in your target specialties (applications, tech, etc.)

Knowing a few folks that you can call should be someone’s job if you’re really going to advance from Q headline reader to earlier Q explorer. There’s wheat. There’s chaff. It doesn’t matter. Some like the meter running. Many don’t, perhaps more so in public and non-profit. Just don’t be a pest and it’s nice if you have info to give too.

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/05/12/qa-with-ornls-travis-humble-an-hpcwire-person-to-watch-in-2023/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/06/02/qa-with-marco-pistoia-an-hpcwire-person-to-watch-in-2023-2/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/11/08/whats-next-for-eurohpc-deep-dive-with-eurohpc-exec-dir-anders-dam-jensen/

  1. Identify What Quantum can Do for You

Even casual followers of QIS know the race to develop/discover quantum algorithms for real problems is at fever pitch. (If they can’t outperform existing methods, what’s the point?) Where’s the intersection with your company’s business today and tomorrow. This is a bit myopic in that it’s clear new opportunities will emerge. But start with what you know say the experts.

Brace from skepticism in many C-suites since, practically speaking, we don’t yet really know what The Right Investment strategy is or what Return on Investment will be. Vendors want your business are trying to help would-be users match algorithms to needs.

AWS, for example, released a study – Quantum algorithms: A survey of applications and end-to-end complexities – intended to help early quantum computing users. It’s a nice resource to add to the growing basket of tools available to early explorers of quantum computing. It’s also a good indication of the steady quantum algorithm/application development. Increasingly, it seems that a considerable number of quantum algorithms and applications will be available for use on NISQ (noisy intermediate-scale quantum) devices to deliver early quantum advantage (QA) and then eventually on fault tolerant quantum computers when they arrive.

“The primary focus of the survey is quantum algorithms with the greatest potential to generate customer value in the long term, once fault-tolerant quantum computers are available – however, it also comments on the most relevant near-term noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) algorithms, where appropriate,” write Sam McArdle and Alexander Dalzell, AWS quantum researchers, in a blog about the new tool. AWS has also posted a preprint paper on arXiv with the full survey. Others have similar tools.

LINKS

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/10/05/aws-survey-showcases-quantum-algorithms-and-applications/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/03/30/jpmorgan-chase-qc-ware-reported-progress-in-quantum-dl-for-deep-hedging/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/07/20/atom-computing-nrel-explore-quantum-computing-for-energy-grid-management/

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/04/19/sandboxaq-launches-end-to-end-cryptography-security-suite/

  1. Leverage Gen-AI Tools to Smooth the Path Forward

No speculation on QIS’s forward trajectory would be complete with wondering about the impact of Gen AI and sophisticated LLM-like tools will have on quantum researchers, potential QIS users, and society at large.

Expect a flood of these tools. Microsoft – no surprise with its stake in OpenAI – has introduced a Copilot GenAI tools for quantum, with rather grand ambitions.

  • Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

    “Imagine using natural language to generate code to help model the electronic structure of a complex molecule and predict its exact properties. Or imagine simply describing the scientific problem you’re trying to solve and having the system configure the underlying software needed on the best hardware to run it,” was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s description at Microsoft quantum-dedicated event. “Our ambition is that Copilot and Azure Quantum will have [a] similar impact on the scientific process. Our goal is to compress the next 250 years of chemistry and material science progress into the next 25.”

IBM is incorporating GenAI into its Qiskit, the latest version of which (Qiskit 1.0) which debuts in February 2024.

  • “Connecting the generative AI tools from WatsonX to Qiskit will allow programmers to use a simple language command to generate a quantum circuit; basically, simply write out what they want to do, and that goes to a trained foundation – Granite – which fine tunes with all the Qiskit data and generates code that is executable. “We [think] the full power of using quantum computing will be powered by generative AI to simplify the developer experience,” said Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow and vice president of IBM Quantum

You get the picture. More such tools are coming. They’re imperfect but will improve.

https://www.hpcwire.com/2023/06/22/microsoft-debuts-azure-quantum-elements-and-azure-quantum-copilot-llm/

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