Quantum computing at a million qubits? How SEEQC plans to evolve quantum computers


As exciting as it can be to hear about a breakthrough 127-qubit quantum computers or promises of 1000 qubits by 2023, the reality is that quantum computing is still not a mainstream computing technology that produces real, game-changing results with massive, obvious and immediate impact.

There is still a ton of promise and potential and future in quantum computing.

This is something from a New York-based quantum computing company SEEQC seeks to change. And he faces an uphill battle.

The company begins by building specially designed quantum point computers in the same way that early classical computers were created to do one thing, like calculating the trajectories of missiles at the start of rockets. One project, QPharma, is the company’s business with Merck and other partners to build a quantum computer for pharmaceutical research. A key technique used by the company is essentially to fuse classical computers and quantum computers directly inside dilution refrigerators that quantum computers need to reach their optimum operating temperatures (at a spitting distance from absolute zero). . The goal: to reduce the back and forth of instructions and digital-to-analog conversions required by external quantum computer control mechanisms, and to perform reading, control and even potentially error correction essentially directly at the computer. inside the quantum computer.

This uses chips with impressive speeds – 30 to 40 gigahertz – which operate at very low temperatures to avoid destabilizing the qubits.

Perhaps the most difficult job of SEEQC is to find ways to evolve quantum computers by orders of magnitude.

“What we’re really focusing on is finding a strategy to evolve a quantum computer,” CEO John Levy told me recently on the TechFirst Podcast. “As much as IBM gets to a thousand or thousands of qubits… the question is how do we get to ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million qubits so that we actually adapt quantum computers to the complexity of such big problems. businesses care.

“And that’s what we do.”

It starts with using SEEQC’s foundry to design and build near-real-time chips – think iterations every week – that the company can mix and match for various needs such as running a variational solver. quantum or approximate quantum optimization algorithm. It helps that the business is a spin-out of Hypermarkets, which develops and markets superconducting integrated circuits.

But for Levy, what is essential is not just to build the quantum components of a quantum computer – the qubits themselves. Equally important is how to effectively integrate them into an IT environment that makes sense for how we actually solve problems and use knowledge.

Listen to the interview behind this post:

“If you look at superconducting computers… we’re always dealing with analog signals that have to be converted to digital and down to analog, from cold temperature to room temperature to cold. There is a lot of latency. It’s very difficult to use, ”says Levy. “But we’re used to working with computers, real computers which are all based on chips. So our chips are based on something called Single Quantum Flux, which is different from CMOS – much faster, much quieter, much lower in power – and it allows us to build working chips for a quantum computer doing things like reading and checking, possibly correcting errors, co-processing, etc. all in the same dilution refrigerator, all on the scale of the chip.

It’s an approach similar to what computer scientists and physicists at the University of Chicago recently demonstrated – and won the best paper award at the IEEE 2021 International Conference on Quantum Computing and Engineering.

The result of this approach, according to the researchers, is better scalability and lower error rates of quantum operations.

“We know that in order to scale large, complex systems, we have to shrink them down to a series of chips… it just has to happen,” says Levy.

And what this has the potential to do, according to SEEQC, is to scale up the quantum of the computing equivalent of the Werner Braun V2 rocket to something much more SpaceX-like: scalability, repeatability, and lower cost.

Much lower cost.

Up to 97% less cost.

“Right now, the cost of building a qubit … with read, control, adjustable couplers … is around $ 10,000 per qubit,” Levy said. “Not that long ago, it was around $ 40,000. So there has been a real improvement there. But imagine for a moment that you could do all of that with, I don’t know, five or six chips, something like that, and where you could multiplex to a lot of qubits. Well, all of a sudden your cost goes from, let’s call it, a range of $ 10,000 to, you know, not a lot of dollars to build a bunch of that kind of chips that you can build on wafers of six and eight. inches, where you get a lot of those chips.

Upon further investigation Levy told me that “not a lot of dollars” means “hundreds” of dollars per qubit.

He’s a big game changer.

While there is talk that a Shenzhen SpinQ tech will launch a very basic quantum computer for around $ 5,000, it’s basically a two-qubit toy for high school that doesn’t even come close to conventional computing speeds. typical. “Real” quantum computers for actual use in industrial or academic environments cost millions of dollars. D-Wave, for example, sold a particular quantum computer model for $ 15 million in 2017, but now focuses on accessibility of the quantum computing cloud, so you kick off quantum processing just like you kick off a new node on Amazon Web Services.

Making quantum computing affordable is a key step in making it useful.

While SEEQC today makes machines specifically designed for this purpose, the end goal, according to Levy, is general-purpose quantum computers. And that requires a scale, which is pretty much a foundry-based approach to making quantum computers.

“We know that in order to scale large, complex systems, we have to shrink them down to a series of chips,” says Levy. “It just has to happen. “

Will it work?

Only time will tell. The company is well connected and has several grants for its operations in the United States, United Kingdom and Italy, totaling several million dollars. It has a well-connected parent with useful technology, and it’s in an industry that saw rapid growth in 2021 and is expected to continue to grow in 2022 with applications in AI, natural language processing, and cryptography.

But it also faces significant competition from players like Honeywell, IBM, Google and Intel. And advanced technology tends to bleed the companies that invented it.

Levy thinks they will, but he doesn’t think the SEEQC’s approach is the only one that will work.

“Over the next three to five years… you will see quantum computers built on this – on this platform and others that evolve,” he says. “I think you’ll see one based on photonics, and you’ll see from us, you’re going to see one for superconducting electronics… a superconducting qubit version. “

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