In a bid to accelerate this country’s efforts in quantum computing, 24 Canadian hardware and software companies specializing in the field are launching an association this week to help their work get commercialized.
Called Quantum Industry Canada, the group says they represent Canada’s most commercial-ready technologies, covering applications in quantum computing, sensing, communications, and quantum-safe cryptography.
The group includes Burnaby, B.C., manufacturer D-Wave Systems, Vancouver software developer 1Qbit, Toronto’s photonic quantum computer maker Xanadu Quantum Technologies, the Canadian division of software maker Zapata Computing, Waterloo, Ont.,-based ISARA – which makes quantum-safe solutions – and others.
“The quantum opportunity has been brewing for many years,” association co-chair Michele Mosca of the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing and the co-founder of two quantum startups, said in an interview, explaining why the new group is starting now. “Canada’s been a global leader at building up the global opportunity, the science, the workforce, and we didn’t want this chance to pass. We’ve got over 24 innovative companies, and we wanted to work together to make these companies a commercial success globally.”
It’s also important to get Canada known as a leader in quantum-related products and services, he added. “This will help assure a strong domestic quantum industry as we enter the final stages of quantum readiness.”
And while quantum computing is “a fundamental new tool,” Mosca said, it’s also important for Canadian organizations to start planning for a quantum computing future, even if the real business value isn’t obvious. “We don’t know exactly when you’ll get the real business advantage … you want to be ready for when quantum computers can give you an advantage.”
Adib Ghubril, research director at Toronto-based Info-Tech Research Group, said in an interview creation of such a group is needed. “When you want to foster innovation you want to gain critical mass, a certain number of people working in different disciplines … it will help motivate them, even maybe compete.”
Researchers from startups and even giants like Google, Microsoft, Honeywell and IBM have been throwing billions at creating quantum computers. So are countries, especially China, but also Australia, the U.K., Germany and Switzerland. Many big-name firms are touting projects with experimental equipment, or hybrid hardware that does accelerated computations but don’t meet the standard definition of a quantum computer.
True quantum computers may be a decade off, some suggest. Ghubril thinks we’re 15 years from what he calls “reliable, effective quantum computing.” Still, last December IDC predicted that by 2023, one-quarter of the Fortune Global 500 will gain a competitive advantage from emerging quantum computing solutions.
Among the recent signposts:
- In August, AWS announced the availability of its Braket service, a development environment to help customers explore and design quantum algorithms on simulated quantum computers, including quantum annealers from D-Wave;
- In September, D-Wave announced its Leap quantum cloud service’s general availability, powered by a system with more than 5,000 qubits.
- Also that month it was reported that Google’s quantum computer had simulated a simple chemical reaction;
- Also in September Xanadu announced its first photonic quantum cloud platform, which can run at room temperature;
- In May 1Qubit said it had received funding from the Digital Technology Supercluster to accelerate the clinical deployment of a radiology AI artificial intelligence tool.
Briefly, quantum computers take the theory of quantum mechanics to change the world of traditional computation of bits represented by zeros and ones. Instead, a bit can be a zero or a one. In a quantum computer, such basic elements are called qubits. With their expected ability to do astonishing fast computations, quantum computers may be able to help pharmaceutical companies create new drugs and nation-states to break encryption protecting government secrets.
Companies are taking different approaches. D-Wave uses a quantum annealing process to make machines it says are suited to solving real-world computing problems today. Xanadu uses what Mosca calls a more circuit-type computing architecture. “There’s certainly the potential that some of the nearer-term technologies will offer businesses advantage, especially as they scale.
“We know the road towards a full-fledged quantum computer is long. But there are amazing milestones in that direction.”
Ghubril says Canada is “in the leading pack” of countries working on quantum computing. “The momentum out of China is enormous,” he said, but it looks like the country will focus on using quantum for telecommunications and not business solutions.
From his point of view companies are taking two approaches to quantum computers. Some, like D-Wave, are trying to use quantum ideas to optimize solving modelling problems. “The problem is not every problem is an optimization problem,” he said. “Other companies are trying for the Grand Poobah — the real (quantum) computer. So the IBMs of the world are going for the gusto. They want the real deal. They want to solve the material chemistry and biosynthesis and so on. They’ve gone big, but by doing so they’ve gone slower. You can’t do much on the IBM platform. You can learn a lot, but you can’t do much. You can do more on a D-Wave, but you can only do one thing.”
Ghburil encourages companies to dabble in the emerging technology.
“That’s Infotech’s recommendation: Just learn about it. Join a forum, open an account, try a few things. Nobody is going to gain a (financial) competitive advantage. It’s a learning advantage.”