Opinion

Quantum at Scale

    Joseph S. Broz1, Irfan Siddiqi2, and Darío Gil3
    • 1Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), Arlington, VA, USA
    • 2University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, CA, USA
    • 3IBM Research, Yorktown Heights, NY, USA
Physics 13, 146
Quantum technology can only fulfill its promise when it reaches a large scale and proves its value to society.

This piece is the third in a three-part series. Find out more about this series in this introductory article, Ingredients for a Quantum Future.

“The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” These words, attributed to cyberpunk author William Gibson [1], describe to some degree the emerging quantum industry, where the technology, and the knowledge to use and appreciate it, is currently in the hands of relatively few early pioneers. But as the innovation leader and technology strategist Nicholas Davis noted in his 2016 article for the World Economic Forum [2], it is essential for an emerging technology to provably contribute to economic growth and social well-being, and to do that, the technology must be scalable. All members of society must be able to either directly access the technology or the value that can derived from it, and at an affordable cost. In our two earlier pieces, “A Quantum Culture Shift” and “Quantum for All,” we outlined the pathways to accelerating quantum R&D and the need to democratize quantum literacy. We’ll now address the issue of scale by taking a look at its main drivers.

“Scaling quantum” starts with innovation efficiency and the ability to manufacture the necessary components. Large gains in this direction would come from shifting the burden of quantum-device engineering from research laboratories and prototype developers to the manufacturing sector and the supply chain. To make collaboration easier, prototyping faster, and commercialization feasible, the quantum industry will need a reliable supply of enabling components, such as highly stable, small, low-cost lasers at exotic wavelengths; more efficient cryostats; and superconducting cables. These fit-for-use components should be readily available in standard formats and with rigorous performance specifications. Manufacturers will need to be able to rely on a stable supply of high-volume, low-cost components.

Another important element in scalability is access to universal cloud-based quantum computing resources. This access “democratizes quantum” by opening quantum computation to the broadest array of potential end users, and it speeds up innovation by giving more people the opportunity to explore new and diverse quantum computing applications. To succeed, this effort must place quantum resources into the hands of nontraditional users, outside the confines of experimental quantum physics. To this end, industry has launched programs that encourage the participation of new quantum developers and that provide them with the tools and training required to exploit quantum resources. Similar policies are forming within government-supported research. For wide utilization, quantum software will also have to be user-friendly, interoperable with many types of quantum hardware, and easy to access. Assistance on the latter will hopefully come from community-created repositories for quantum algorithms that are available through open-access “hubs.”

Just a decade ago, only a few dozen research groups could code in quantum and perform multiqubit experiments. But that number grew to a few thousand just a week after the first online quantum computing platform launched in 2016 (the IBM Quantum Experience), which gave everyone free access to quantum processors through the cloud. Four years later, the number of programmers experimenting with quantum circuits—the sequences of instructions for manipulating data and making a quantum computer work—is in the hundreds of thousands. And in the near future, millions of software developers in the IT mainstream will build on that effort by integrating the myriad of new quantum circuits into their programs. In turn, these software innovations will touch the lives of billions of people.

Scalability will also rest on developing an “ecosystem” of stakeholders and on giving them the right education and training. Initiatives like the US Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C)—a public-private consortium of around 100 US corporations, national labs, and universities and one of the most tangible outgrowths of the U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act to date—is illustrative of the desire of institutions to engage with this high-potential technology. Private sector initiatives like the IBM Quantum Network also have well over 100 institutions as members, from startups to some of the largest corporations in the world. The US Department of Energy has also recently announced the formation of five major quantum centers, complementing recent investments by the National Science Foundation and leveraging sustained investment from the Department of Defense.

It is thrilling to witness the emergence of a new quantum industry and, relatedly, an exciting time to be a researcher, entrepreneur, or student—either beginning their studies or returning back to school—with an ever-increasing set of resources available to be engaged. We encourage learning by immersion into the subject, be it in the classroom, at the stock exchange, or on the factory floor. Growth in the field will require a partnership between all stakeholders. We have good evidence that the seeds of growth and scale have already been planted, and a background in quantum will serve the tech-savvy denizens of the coming generations well.

Disclaimer: Dr. Siddiqi’s views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Energy or the United States Government.

References

  1. Attributed to William Gibson, cf: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/01/24/future-has-arrived/.
  2. What is the fourth industrial revolution? Nicholas Davis, 2016 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/what-is-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/.

About the Authors

Image of Joseph S. Broz

Joseph S. Broz is the Executive Director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) at SRI International. QED-C comprises over 100 US corporations, universities, national laboratories and NGOs in the emerging quantum industry. Broz is also the Senior Advisor for Quantum at the Air Force Research Lab. He has 35 years of experience in industry and in the public sector, and subject matter expertise in condensed matter physics, quantum systems, and NMR. He served as a Laboratory Director for Tenneco, as Vice President of Laboratories and Business Development for TIMET, and in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He received his Ph.D. in physics from ETH Zurich.

Image of Irfan Siddiqi

Irfan Siddiqi is a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the director of the Quantum Systems Accelerator a US Department of Energy funded national quantum center led by LBNL, and the Ad­vanced Quantum Testbed at LBNL that focuses on state-of-the-art superconducting quantum computing technologies. Siddiqi is known for seminal contributions to the field of superconducting quantum devices, including dispersive single-shot readout of superconducting quantum bits, quantum feedback, observation of single quantum trajectories, and near-quantum-limited microwave frequency amplification. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and a recipient of its George E. Valley prize (2006). He received his Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Yale University.

Image of Darío Gil

Darío Gil is the Director of IBM Research, one of the world’s largest and most influential corporate research labs. At IBM, he directs research strategies in areas including AI, cloud and quantum computing, and exploratory science. Under his leadership, IBM was the world’s first company to build programmable quantum computers and to make them universally available through the cloud. An advocate of collaborative research models, Gil co-chairs the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium. He is a Trustee of the New York Hall of Science and a member of the National Science Board of the US. Gil received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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