RE:INVENT “Quantum computing is still in its infancy,” said Simone Severini, director of Quantum Computing at AWS. The Reg.
Quantum computers built so far have yet to show any impact on business problems
AWS offers a quantum computing service, called Amazon Braket, with a choice of five different brands of hardware, with different ways of implementing qubits, the basic unit of quantum computing. Why isn’t it useful for anything other than research yet?
Professor Simone Severini: “Ask me about quantum computing”
“Because the quantum computers built so far have not yet proven effective in business problems,” says Severini. “Hardware won’t bring any benefits right now. But the trajectory of quantum computing will be that at some point, for some specific applications, for some specific problems, [they are] much faster than any other kind of computer we can actually build, now and forever.
“Currently, the hardware available is at the prototype stage. Companies use Braket services mainly to prepare, to prove concepts, to know what is happening.”
Severini is Professor of Information Physics in the Department of Computing at University College London and has worked at AWS for four years, where he now reports to Bill Vass, Vice President of Engineering.
“We talk a lot about quantum computing, but the scientific perspective is really key,” Severini tells us. “We have a research and development organization called the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, most of which is on the CalTech campus. [university] near Los Angeles. We’ve already built a number of chips, but we want a quantum computer that can actually deliver value.
“We believe that error correction is fundamental, because quantum computers are very difficult to build, they are very capricious, which means that each operation that you apply, you have a probability of error. For a computer quantum has an impact, you have to be able to correct errors, and it’s a long-term investment. We don’t want to play the game of the number of qubits, it’s the quality of the qubits, and the architecture that must evolve .
“If you ask me what is the best way to build quantum computers, I don’t know,” he added. “There’s probably no best way, because being research instruments, there can be many different types to do different things.”
“There is also a short-term perspective,” says Severini. “Amazon Braket is a service that provides access to quantum computers and everything you need to interact with them. Programming resources, orchestrating quantum and non-quantum resources…the most interesting application in computing quantum computing today is to learn about the quantum computing of the future.”
Is there an analogy with nuclear fusion, where we know the technology is extremely promising, but it’s hard to understand when the breakthrough will happen?
“It’s not a great analogy. I think about that analogy as well,” he says. “When you think about quantum computing, there is mathematical evidence that if there is a quantum computer with certain characteristics, then the problems they will be able to solve cannot be solved by other means. is really a property Quantum theory brings computer science and physics together.
“Of course, nuclear fusion is potentially very impactful, but there’s not that clean cut.”
Nevertheless, the question arises of when the quantum will be useful? “It is very difficult to define a timetable,” says Severini. “In the not-too-distant future, there will be devices that solve a very specific problem associated with the physics itself, which may already show some benefit.”
Severini refers to QuEra, “an analog quantum computer, it doesn’t run circuits but you program it by preparing a configuration of a certain number of atoms, and let the physical system evolve, then you read the solution from a computational problem looking at the end of the evolution of this physical system,” he adds.
“It is not a universal computer, which means that it can only solve certain problems, but for these problems related to the simulation of certain materials, for example, we are already on the point that if you want to simulate this what does this machine do with a conventional computer, it’s not that easy.”
The phrase that comes up frequently from Severini is “some specific problems”, the point being that we should not think of quantum simply as next-generation computing, but rather as a specialized type of computing.
What are the types of problems that quantum is, or will be, able to solve? There is no simple answer, says Severini. “Quantum computers like to have a small input and a complex algorithm,” says Severini, which means they are not suitable for typical HPC (high performance computing) use cases where huge amounts of data need to be processed. .
“There are really two kinds of problems. Problems related to nature. People expect quantum computers to be a research tool to simulate physics itself,” says Severini. A problem like simulating a molecule is impossible for a conventional computer because “you need a memory as large as the number of atoms on the planet,” he adds, “but the task can be done.” with a reasonably small quantum computer”.
Therefore, people “believe and hope” that fields such as materials science, pharmacology, sustainability, new chemical compounds, will lend themselves to quantum computing.
Another kind of problem is man-made, Severini says, and here includes areas like logistics “where quantum computers could have an impact.”
There’s a general consensus, he tells us, that “for nature-related problems, quantum computing will have an impact sooner than for man-made problems.”
Who then uses Braket? There are three groups of customers, says Severini. There are researchers, there are enablers who figure out how to integrate quantum computing with other systems and run proofs of concepts, and there are pragmatists “who don’t really care whether there is has quantum computing or not, they want to solve problems.” This implies that companies keep a close eye on the technology in order to be ready to use it in the future. ®
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