This week Quantum Business spoke with Andrew Fursman, the co-founder and CEO of Canadian quantum computing software company, 1QBit. 1QBit is solving some of industry’s most demanding computational challenges in machine learning, genomics, finance, and energy.
Andrew believes that quantum computing represents the first real revolution in computing. He argues that there have been some momentous, incremental advances since the advent of the classical computer. However, these have been grounded in the same 0-1, binary states as the first classical machines of the 1960s. Consequently, the technology is on a narrow road with a limited scope of application. Something else is needed.
“A quantum computer with only a few hundred qubits in the correct configuration could answer problems in minutes. Whereas modern machines with billions of classical bits would be unable to solve the same problems if you gave them all the time in the universe!”
1QBit is a quantum computing software company, founded in 2012 in Vancouver Canada. They provide a hard-ware agnostic platform that enables organisations to build industry applications to solve computing problems. Today 1QBit partner with Fortune 500 clients and leading hardware providers to solve computing challenges in the areas of optimisation, simulation, and machine learning.
Making Quantum Hardware Useable
The quantum computing industry is multi-faceted and diverse. There are a variety of organisations with distinct engineering focuses and and many provide different services to their customers. We asked Andrew about the pioneering work being done at 1QBit and what sets them a part.
“As the first dedicated quantum computing software company, our quantum-ready platform enables the development of applications that are compatible with both classical and quantum processors. This means that our clients can take advantage of the best-available hardware to solve their computationally intensive problems right now.”
Andrew explains that today quantum hardware is being developed by a large number of organisations with many different approaches, claiming that the issue today is that these systems are not accessible to many of the groups which stand to benefit most from the technology. The aim is to therefore bridge a gap between the hardware built and the ability to do something useful with it.
As innovative new quantum hardware becomes available, applications will seamlessly transition to the best processors without rewriting any code. “It’s a solution-as-a-service combining hardware infrastructure and software to provide answers to computationally intensive problems via the cloud.”
“In the earliest days of classical computers, using a computer went hand-in-hand with knowing exactly how it worked – you had to know the machine code, and you had to know how to translate problems into a form that computers would understand. All of this limited the use of computers to a small group of experts who knew how to do all of these things.” Andrew states that today we are in a similar situation with quantum computers.
“Just as the introduction of higher level software for classical computers made computers accessible and usable by the masses, the 1QBit platform allows problems which should run on quantum computers to receive answers from the cloud, without considering the nuances of individual computing architectures.”
The quantum marketplace is expected to expand over the next five years. Financial estimates predict that by 2023 the market for quantum computing software will reach $408 million, with 60 percent of these revenues from applications packaged for cloud service providers. Early revenues for quantum software start-ups will also come from compilers, simulators and application packages. Andrew reveals who the industrial partners are and why they are now getting involved.
“We partner with Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries, including life sciences, finance, advanced materials, energy, automotive and logistics. Our customers have computationally intensive problems and they want to explore options for solving these with specialised hardware that is best suited to their particular problem.”
“Some of our customers are looking for a solution immediately using available quantum-inspired and specialized hardware, while others want to prepare for the ways in which quantum computing will be able to solve currently impossible problems in the future with advanced quantum hardware not yet available. The trend we’ve witnessed across all of our customers is the understanding that you must recognise the benefits of quantum computers and begin acting on them now, before your competitors have sustained that advantage in their industry.”
What are Quantum Computers Good For Solving?
We asked Andrew what the use cases will be for this radical and revolutionary technology. He believes that different types of quantum computers are good for solving different types of problems.
Optimisation – NP Hard Problems
“One type of quantum computer that is already available is the annealer, which we have found to be best suited to optimization problems and sampling for machine learning. These problems exist across almost every industry and currently take a significant amount of time, resources, and effort to solve well.” A clear example of an industry player in this area is D-Wave systems, who sold their fourth generation annealer in January 2017.
“Large optimization problems are found in financial engineering, energy production, drug discovery, social network analysis, machine learning systems, and other ‘big data’ industries. For example, portfolio optimization, binomial option pricing, oil and gas exploration, AI training, and smart-grid management problems are all forms of difficult optimization problems (known as NP-hard or NP-complete optimization problems) that share the same type of underlying structure and complexity.”
Simulation via the cloud
Andrew explains that the other type of quantum computer is the circuit model quantum processor which can also solve complex simulation problems. Major players in this field are IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Rigetti Computing.
“There are many efforts underway to produce universal circuit model quantum computers within government, academic and industrial institutions. Unfortunately, there are also many technical obstacles preventing the imminent production of universal quantum processors. Most notable of these is controlling quantum decoherence, which can be thought of as the loss of information due to qubits interacting with their environment and losing their special quantum properties. The solution to decoherence is most likely robust error correction, but this comes with its own set of challenges.”
Most industry observers predict that usable gate model quantum processors will emerge within the next 5 – 10 years and will offer super-computation via the quantum cloud.
Applications for Industry
The consensus amongst senior researchers and scientists is that the fields of artificial intelligence, genomics, finance, and clean energy devices could experience the greatest change over the next 5-10 years. Andrew outlines the objectives of 1QBit in this time and the main areas of focus.
“1QBit is exploring near-term opportunities to improve machine learning through sampling and simulation of chemicals using quantum processors. We believe that some quantum chemistry applications may be possible without the implementation of robust error correction and some of the problems which plague universal quantum computers could actually become useful features in quantum sampling. Additionally, our advancing understanding of quantum processors has led to exciting new improvements to classical algorithms inspired by quantum physics which can be run on traditional computer systems today!”
“We think that quantum computers will allow finance professionals to model much more robust versions of portfolios and markets by considering the impact of all of the possible decisions you could make today, and all of those futures given all the decisions you could make tomorrow and the day following and so on.”
“This means it will be possible to chart a course through all possible futures yielding outcomes with the best possible combination of risks and returns using what we call an optimal trading trajectory.”
“In the life sciences, we believe quantum computing will allow the pharmaceutical industry to more completely transition from a paradigm of “drug discovery” where we test the results of various compounds to one of “de novo drug design” where solutions are assembled from scratch to address specific conditions or cure disease within a specific person. This has long been a dream of drug companies, but our understanding of the human body and our limited ability to predict the effects of a specific therapeutic have fallen short of making this a reality.”
This insight from Andrew and the perspective of 1QBit is another welcome voice to the growing network of quantum computing experts connecting with Quantum Business every week. His detailed expertise on how this complex technology can be cultivated to revolutionise industry, helps to further our understanding of an increasingly accessible quantum computing world.
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Article written by Hal Briggs from Quantum Business