Quantum has a moment. In October, Google said it had reached a milestone for quantum superiority. In November, Microsoft announced Azure Quantum, a cloud service that lets you target quantum hardware suppliers Honeywell, IonQ, or QCI. Last week, AWS announced Amazon Braket, a cloud service that you can use to target Quantum hardware providers D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti. At the Q2B 2019 quantum computer conference this week, I got a boost on how the emerging industry feels.
Binary digits (bits) are the basic information units in classic computing, while quantum bits (qubits) make up quantum computing. Bits are always in a state of 0 or 1, while qubits can be in a state of 0, 1 or an overlay of the two. Quantum Computing uses qubits to perform calculations that would be much more difficult for a classic computer. The potential applications are so extensive and diverse (from basic optimization problems to machine learning to all types of modeling) that interested industries span finance, chemistry, aerospace, cryptography, and more. But it is still so early that the industry has by no means reached a consensus on the appearance of the qubit transistor.
Excitement and Discomfort
Currently, your cloud quantum computing options are limited to individual hardware providers like these by D-Wave and IBM. Amazon and Microsoft want to change that.
Companies and researchers interested in testing and experimenting with quantum are enthusiastic because, at least theoretically, they can use different quantum processors via the same service. However, they are restless because the quantum processors are so fundamentally different that it is not clear how easy it will be to switch between them. D-Wave uses quantum glow, Honeywell and IonQ use ion traps, and Rigetti and QCI use superconducting chips. Even the technologies that are "the same" have completely different architectures.
Entrepreneurs and enthusiasts hope that Amazon and Microsoft will facilitate the interface to the various quantum hardware technologies. However, they are restless because Amazon and Microsoft have not shared prices and technical details. In addition, some of the Quantum providers offer their own cloud services, making it difficult to figure out when it makes more sense to work directly with them. Amazon and Microsoft are the world's largest and second largest cloud providers. However, they are restless because the technology giants are really just middlemen, which of course poses its own cost and reliability problems.
The clear winners
At least for the moment it looks like the new is normal. Even hardware vendors that have not announced plans to partner with Amazon and / or Microsoft, such as Xanadu, are in talks to do just that. If you are participating in a domain that has not yet been created, you have to be optimistic. The news this quarter was all very quick, but we still have a long way to go. After all, these cloud services were only announced . They still need to be available, spread, absorb traction, become practical, prove useful, and so on.
The devil is in the details. How much do these cloud services cost for Quantum? Amazon and Microsoft didn't say that. When exactly will they be available in preview or in beta? Amazon and Microsoft didn't say that. How does switching between different quantum processors work in practice? Amazon and Microsoft said nothing.
One thing is clear. All participants at the event spoke about the effects of the two largest cloud providers that offer quantum hardware from different companies. The clear winners? Amazon and Microsoft.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil scolds what is coming up this week.