- Experts and analysts consider quantum computing as one of the key technology sectors of the next decade.
- IARPA, the research arm of US intelligence, launched a research program to overcome the current practical limitations of quantum computing.
- IBM will be awarded a major multi-year IARPA contract to advance toward practical quantum computers.
- Alphabet is developing practical quantum computers optimized for specific tasks relevant to the company's main and emergent business applications.
We often report about developments in the emergent quantum computer industry, considered by experts and analysts as one of the key technology sectors of the next decade. Quantum computers, which information in quantum bits - qubits - that can be in a quantum superposition of zero and one states, could process information much faster than today's computers by exploiting subtle quantum phenomena such as quantum entanglement. The theoretical peak performance of quantum computers increases very fast with the number of qubits - but so does the engineering challenge of building practical operational high performance quantum processors, overcoming qubit instability and sensitivity to environmental noise.
Therefore, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research arm of US intelligence, launched the Logical Qubits (LogiQ) research program to overcome the current practical limitations of quantum computing. The program seeks to overcome the limitations of current multi-qubit systems by building a “logical qubit” from a number of imperfect physical qubits.
Earlier this month, IBM (NYSE:IBM) announced that it will be awarded a major multi-year IARPA research grant under the LogiQ program to advance toward practical quantum computers. The IBM scientists will build upon recent promising results that demonstrated the possibility to detect quantum errors by using superconducting qubits.
“We are at a turning point where quantum computing is moving beyond theory and experimentation to include engineering and applications,” said IBM Research director Arvind Krishna. “Quantum computing promises to deliver exponentially more speed and power not achievable by today’s most powerful computers with the potential to impact business needs on a global scale.”
Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL), the parent company of Google, recently announced important research results, which demonstrate that their approach to quantum computing is sound and likely to produce operational results. New research results described in the prestigious MIT Technology Review show that Google's quantum computer is really much faster than traditional computers. The theoretical performance boost that quantum computers could achieve is nothing short of breathtaking - quantum computers could operate millions of times faster than conventional computers.
The new research results, obtained with the latest hardware developed by leading quantum computer maker D-Wave Systems, have been referred to as an important breakthrough. However, they have been achieved in carefully controlled benchmarks, which don't necessarily translate easily into real, operational quantum leaps in performance.
"We need to make it easier to take a problem that comes up at an engineer’s desk and put it into the computer," said Hartmut Neven, who leads Alphabet's Quantum Artificial Intelligence lab. "There’s a list of shortcomings that need to be overcome in order to arrive at a real technology."
Therefore, Alphabet initiated a research program to hedge its bets with alternative approaches developed in house. The Internet giant hired physicist John Martinis to lead the development of high-quality chips with fewer qubits than the D-Wave chips, but optimized for specific tasks such as "quantum annealing," MIT Technology Review reports. Alphabet estimates that Martinis’s group can make a quantum annealer with 100 qubits as soon as 2017.
The new machines won't be general purpose computers but application-specific processors optimized for particular algorithms, such as pattern recognition and machine learning, which are especially relevant to Alphabet's main business - personalized online ads - and emerging projects such as self-driving cars.
“Machine learning will be transformed into quantum learning,” said Neven. "The most creative systems we can build will be quantum AI systems.” He added that quantum computers will open the door to human-like machine learning and remake the field of artificial intelligence.
Recently,Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) invested $50 million in a collaboration with Dutch research organizations to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) recently claimed that it could achieve an operational quantum computer by 2025. Other top tech companies such as Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) are aggressively pursuing quantum computing.
In related news, the Australian government, persuaded that quantum computers could solve problems in minutes that take today's computers centuries, has pledged a $26 million grant to support quantum computing in Australia. “This would have a transformational impact on Australian and global businesses, from banks undertaking financial analysis, transport companies planning optimal logistic routes, or improvements in medical drug design,” notes an official statement. Telstra, Australia's largest telecommunications and media company, has also pledged $10 million to support quantum computing research at the University of New South Wales.
For investors persuaded by the many experts and analysts who consider quantum computing as one of the key technology sectors of the next decade, the key question is which company will be the winner. Though it's probably too early to tell, recent development seem to indicate that the tech stocks portfolio of investors bullish on quantum computing should include IBM and Alphabet.