What is Really Happening with Quantum Computers?

I have been following quantum computers closely for over two decades and I spent the last few days meeting with many of the major quantum computer companies, listening to talks and presentations and hearing from representatives of several governmental agencies and groups at the Q2B conference (Quantum to Business) .

UPDATE : This article has been cited by IEEE Quantum journal on Twitter.

I have reduced this information into a few key points so people can understand where things are at and where they are going.

Will Quantum Computers deliver value in the future?
How much value is possible in the near term?
What are the usable qubit levels now ?
How do quantum computers compare to regular supercomputers now?
Are we transitioning a different phase?

What will a company need to do to prepare to get value from quantum computers?

I looked at dozens of presentations and hundreds of slides. This is a critical slide that explains a lot about where things are at with quantum computers. You have to spend some time looking at this graph. On the X, horizontal axis, you see the qubit counts. On the Y, vertical axis, you see the probability of getting a successful answer. Below 8 qubits you are look at about 10% chance of success. At 12-13 qubits you are looking at 0.1% chance of success in getting answers.

The new Fire Opal, AI and Hardware aware mapping of good qubits. This system of error suppression lets the chance of success with 16-24 qubits reach 10% chance of success instead of being less than 0.01% (1 in 10,000). Below are examples of finding the right answer. The right distribution of answers is on the left and what is found is on the right. Initially without Fire Opal, the correct distribution cannot be found in the sea of error and noise.

But with Fire Opal managing the interaction with the qubits of the quantum hardware, we can visually see that we are getting something far closer to what actually exists.

Q-ctrl has online courses via Black Opal for about $20/month. Someone committed could get through the material in about one year to get a certificate that could enable them to be usefully employed in the Quantum computing industry.

Fire Opal can be tried for free and their are cloud accessed quantum computers available for initial experiments.

I will be making other articles to go over more of what is and will be happening with quantum computers. There aree several promising approaches which could enable the industry to have breakthrough advances.

We are currently in the phase of research learning and discovering and some of the research is enable quantum and physics inspired approaches using analog and classical computing to achieve better and useful results. The effort and challenge in attemping to solve quantum computing at scale is giving spinoff scientific benefits. Some of these new insights are valuable.

We are shifting from a lot of work at 1-15 qubits and some work at 25 qubits or so and a few experiments and attempts with large qubit systems. We are entering a phase where there is regular and useful work at 15-25 qubits. There are also regular supercomputers simulating quantum systems. This is happening at 39 qubits. However, the 39 qubits are supercomputer resources. It is easier and cheaper to access the small real quantum systems. There needs to be a lot of work perfecting algorithms and other methods with the cheap smaller systems before large scale runs are attempted on expensive hardware. It is like doing work on computer server workstations before trying on the supercomputer.

There is also a lot of exploration and study around the questions. We want to know what are the real good questions and how can we break down the questions using human analysis so that only the really hard part that needs real quantum is done on real quantum. We can try on regular computers and on the ‘fake quantum’ simulation systems.

When we finally get the breakthroughs then there will be a mix of very large systems. 300+ qubits photonic annealers, 1000+ qubits on superconducting systems, perhaps thousands and millions of qubits and all will different levels of error mitigation, error suppression and eventually error-correction. Even when the hardware arrives, we will still be using all of the tools to understand and verify really hard problems, determining the questions and the right way to go about attacking those questions and possible answers.

There will be cost and benefit tradeoffs and value analysis all along the way.

It is like sequencing the genome. It cost $3 billion initially but then it has come down to $100 and become more accurate. It took decades. Then we had to learn how to use the data and turn it into information and then get insights and then get results.

It is also like cracking the WW2 nazi Enigma code. You have thousands of code-breakers at Bletchly Park and really smart people working on cracking the problem and advancing understanding over years and figuring out how to make the problem more tractable.

If the problems are not extremely hard and extremely valuable then there would be no point and no need for quantum computers.

There is an estimate that nature quantum computer industry could be worth $850 billion per year which is 20 times more than the $40 billion high performance computer industry. However, this number is a guess. Who knows what is the value when you can solve big questions that are impossible to answer now?

Those who say that Quantum computers are all hype and that this Quantum Computing effort will fail are wrong. Amazon, IBM, the US Air Force research lab and many others have the resources and patience and staying power to keep working these problems and have the motivation and see value in the learning and the journey and effort.

13 thoughts on “What is Really Happening with Quantum Computers?”

  1. I, for one, hope that Quantum does have profound benefits not realizable any other way. But will it be the ‘natural next step’ once we max out ‘traditional’ supercomputer tech, assuming that we are reaching some physical or economic limits there? Why are there not more (Top 100-type) supercomputers out there? Why does every high school (or college) district not have a supercomputer hub that can offer time to local school computer labs to do projects – cost? national security? limited applications? Even as a PhD playground for various national-standard universities, quantum research and development is likely valuable (I do have hopes for untold medical (small molecule pharma) breakthroughs from Quantum)
    Almost seems like fusion. The natural next step from fission; but have we really maxxed out the technical, commercial, and political possibilities of nuclear power? of course not. Just sayin’ – hopefully one technology is not canibalizing the ‘overall’ resources and possibilities of its theoretical successor/ predecessor (current).

    • Meh. The world was perfect in mid-1989. Cars, housing, world politics, barely-connected computers, space shuttle tech, music, movies, stock markets, and the power infrastructure – perfect.

      • Huh. And it appears to be part of a series of high-points on precisely 30-year cycles. Great points (levels) in technological/ industrial/ world history (usually followed by something drastic and de-stabilizing):
        Great: mid-1929, mid-1959, mid-2019. All high points.
        Prediction mid-2049 – Mars open to the Public. AIs of a certain complexity want Rights after contributing so much. K2 civilization contacts us/ makes itself known. People starting to live past 120 with 70-year-old function. Supplemental brain implants for memory common. Last ICE vehicles made in a factory anywhere in the world. Stay in an orbital hotel for a weekend/ or trip around the moon now less than price of a small-size urban condo. First asteroid/ NEO stabilized in cis-lunar orbit for mining.

        • About 512 years after the Magna Carta, the printing press eased over its hump and really starting making changes. 256 years later, the industrial revolution came into its own. Around 128 years later electronics was really becoming a thing. 64 years later, call it 1993, the internet and the world wide web burst out upon the world. 29 years later, around 2022, it would appear we are looking at cognitive automation, where it becomes clear that most things that requires repetitive thinking have been, or inevitably will be, done away with, much in the same way that the industrial revolution did away with the vast bulk of repetitive human muscle activities.

          Each of these singularities (with a small ‘s’) in human advancement leads us into unfamiliar territory, where the world changes in ways near impossible to predict in advance. The nomads that started planting grass seeds to make beer certainly never anticipated city-states, kingdoms, and empires. And the intervals between keep getting cut in half as each one spurs on the next.

          Less than16 years after that (15?), say 2037, it may be reasonable to expect superior synthetic intelligence. Less than 7 years after that? The biological singularity in 2045, where human lifespan begins increasing at a rate faster than one year per year? 4 more years take us to 2049 Man-machine interfaces? Self-replicating automation and resource gathering? Whichever, we might get either, and get the other two years later, in 2052.

          So what happens in 2053? Transcendence (whatever that means)? Dunno, but we get one, then another six months later, and another 3 months later, another 6 weeks later, and another 3 weeks after that, then ten days, five, three, two, one, and it really starts getting ridiculous. Do we even make it out of 2053?

          • Like Moore’s Law, it is more the extrapolation of an observation than a cogent theory.
            And like Moore’s Law, it unfortunately won’t go on ad libitum. Things must slow on,
            let’s hope later than sooner.

  2. I just want one so I can focus only on that subset of worldlines where I already have the winning lotto numbers.

    Of course, the downside being that I will still have to buy a ticket.

  3. http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2022/11/quantum-winter-is-coming.html

    “A lot of physicists, me included, have warned that quantum computing is being oversold. It’s not going to change the world, it’ll have some niche applications at best, and it’s going to take much longer than many start-ups want you to believe.”

    talking about startups with “cool names and terms”
    “Or here’s one called “universal quantum” which has a “fault tolerant team” that “embraces entanglement” and helps everyone find a “super position”. If you look at them, do they collapse?” lol

    “Last time I looked, no one had any idea how to do a weather forecast on a quantum computer. It’s not just that no one has done it, no one knows if it’s even possible, because weather is a non-linear system whereas quantum mechanics is a linear theory.”

    “Quantum advantage has indeed been demonstrated for some quantum computers but that just means the quantum computer did something faster than a conventional computer, not that this was of any use for real world issues. They just produced a random distribution that would take a really long time to calculate by any other means. It’s like this this guy stapling 5 M&M. That’s a world record, hurray, but what are you going to do with it?”

    “Now let’s talk about the problems. First there’s the qubits. Producing them is not the problem, indeed there are many different ways to produce qubits. I went through the advantages and disadvantages of each approach in an earlier video, so check this out if you want to know more. But a general problem with qubits is decoherence, which means they lose their quantum properties quickly.

    The currently most widely developed systems are superconducting qubits and ion traps. Superconducting qbits are used for example by IBM and Google. For them to work, they have to be cooled to 10-20 milli Kelvin, that’s colder than outer space. Even so, they decoherence within 10s of micro-seconds.

    Ion traps are used for example by IonQ and Honeywell. They must “only” be cooled to a few Kelvin above absolute zero. They have much longer coherence times, up to some minutes, but they’re also much slower to react to operations, so it’s not a priori clear which approach is better. I’d say they’re both equally bad. The cooling isn’t only expensive and energy-intensive, it requires a lot of equipment and it’s difficult to scale to larger quantum computers. It seems that IBM is trying to do it by breaking world records in building large cryogenic containers. I guess if the thing with quantum computing doesn’t work out, they can rent them out for people to have their heads frozen.”

    “The next biggest problem is combining these qubits. Again, the issue is that quantum effects are fragile, so the quantum computer is extremely sensitive to noise. The noise brings in errors. You can correct for those to some extent, but this error correction requires more qubits.

    More qubits bring problems by themselves, for example, they tend to be not as independent as they should be, an issue known as “crosstalk”. It’s kind of like if you’re trying to write while moving your feet in circles. It gets really difficult. The qubits states are also drifting if you leave them unattended. Indeed it’s somewhat of a mystery at the moment what a quantum computer does if you don’t calculate with it. It’s like it’s difficult to calculate what a big quantum system does. Maybe we can put it on a quantum computer?”

    “The record breaking “useful” calculation for quantum computers is the prime-number factorization of 21. That’s the number, not the number of digits. Yes, the answer is 3 times 7, but if you do it on a quantum computer you can publish it in Nature. In case you are impressed by this achievement, please allow me to clarify that doing this calculation with the standard algorithm and error correction is way beyond the capacity of current quantum computers. They actually used a simplified algorithm that works for this number in particular.”

    “A lot of quantum computing enthusiasts claim that we’ll get there quickly because of Moore’s law. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that Moore’s law isn’t a law of nature. It worked for conventional computers because those could be miniaturized. However, you can’t miniaturize ions or the Compton wavelength of electrons. They’re already as small as it gets. Nature’s a bitch sometimes.”

    • I am aware of that article. It is spinning everything for maximum FUD. It is using half-truths and straight-up lies.

      This statement is a straight-up lie.
      “The record breaking “useful” calculation for quantum computers is the prime-number factorization of 21. That’s the number, not the number of digits. Yes, the answer is 3 times 7, but if you do it on a quantum computer you can publish it in Nature.

      There is useful working being done with quantum chemistry, quantum machine learning, portfolio finance and optimization. Amazon, IBM and many others are doing useful work and analysis. Plus there are near-term spin-off technologies in sensing, devices, and quantum-rf.

      It is true that work is hard and progress is non-trivial effort.

    • Sabine makes an entertaining video but she is wrong. There is overhyping and overestimation but she overhyping the overhyping. And overcorrecting and misinterpreting some of the overestimations.

      A lot of people get to make snarky videos and get a lot of views.

      So what does it mean specifically that the “bubble will bust”?

      Amazon Bracket is part of their cloud offerings. Are they going to cancel this service when the “bubble busts?”.

      Is the prediction that there will be something like the AI winter? The 1970s AI winter was when a few million dollar DARPA contracts and programs got cut. The $850 million fifth gen project by Japan got far, far less than was hoped. The Lisp and expert system markets went through a bust.

      Neural Networks needed larger memories, faster processors, more and better digital datasets and algorithmic improvements for back propogation and breakthrough to hundreds of layers.

      Nuclear fusion efforts have had a few tens of billions of dollars expended without working commercial reactors or anything near net energy gain.

  4. thank you. did not know about black opal courses, just tested free of charge version, and i obviously go for pro version …

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