Quantum computers are fascinating machines. While classical processors go through their calculations with every tick of the clock, quantum machines take a radically different approach. To envision the scene, imagine multiple solutions being generated simultaneously, with the strongest prospects rising like waves on the ocean. The processing architecture may feel unfamiliar, but the rewards in terms of quantum computing applications have tremendous potential.
Such a leap in computing power — dubbed “quantum advantage” — has use cases across a variety of industries. Classical computers have already revolutionized the design of planes and cars, to name just a few, but quantum machines could take this to a whole new level. Faster calculation would feed directly into company profits or allow many more designs to be explored. But there’s also the promise of solving problems that aren’t solvable on current machines.
Just scratching the surface
We are already seeing the advent of what is known as “quantum glow” – an approach that takes a mathematical example and turns it into a physical problem. Using the laws of thermodynamics, systems programmed with various parameters find a minimum energy state to solve optimization problems. But that only scratches the surface of quantum computing applications.
Greater rewards will come from applying more structured quantum algorithms, experts say. “In my view, they open up a much richer set of problems,” Joe Fitzsimons, CEO and founder of Horizon Quantum Computing, told TechHQ. “You can use it to tackle systems of differential equations.” This ability would open the door to superior fluid flow modeling – for example to build better jet engines or more elegant wind turbines.
The ability to use more structured quantum algorithms could also benefit machine learning. In principle, there are many techniques that could demonstrate exponential acceleration if programmed to run on a quantum computer. But that sums up one of the current challenges — and something that Horizon Quantum Computing is keen to solve.
Algorithm bottleneck fix
While there are millions of software developers, the pool of quantum computing experts is much smaller. And grappling with an architecture built around the interference between quantum amplitudes takes – as you can imagine – years of experience. But what if programmers could use what they already know? Today there are software libraries that allow users to solve built-in problems, but Fitzsimons and his team want to go further. Their plan is to develop a compiler that abstracts away hardware complications to unlock a full suite of quantum computing applications.
“Our long-term goal is to build a system that constructs quantum algorithms for conventional code,” he explained. Fitzsimons warns that their solution is still in the early stages, but at the same time notes that steady progress is being made. For example, the group could demonstrate acceleration using some Matlab code. A compiler stack capable of deriving quantum-efficient algorithms from common programming languages would unlock a wealth of existing application know-how—e.g., in financial modeling, industrial design, and other fields.
Technology remains another obstacle to getting the full suite of quantum computing applications up and running. But gains are being made as hardware developers show progress in progressing through their product roadmaps. The total number of quantum bits (or qubits) doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, as error rates also need to be considered. However, the commercial prospects are encouraging. “The pendulum is starting to swing from academia to industry,” comments Fitzsimons.
New European office
A former head of the Quantum Information and Theory Group at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, he founded Horizon Quantum Computing in 2018. Fitzsimons brings 18 years of quantum expertise to the company. And propelling the company toward its compiler goal is a wealth of intellectual talent, including Si-Hui Tan – Chief Science Officer at Horizon Quantum Computing. Tan was named one of the rising stars of technology by the Singapore Computer Society last year and, like Fitzsimons, has been in the industry for 18 years.
The company, which is based in Singapore and will soon open a European office in Ireland, is well integrated into a global network of companies exploring quantum computing applications. And the trend for hardware designers to make their machines accessible in the cloud further helps test the company’s solution in a variety of quantum computing designs.
Speaking to Fitzsimons, it’s clear that he wants Horizon Quantum Computing to have a positive impact. And the ability to allow users to create fast, efficient implementations of their code – written in languages familiar to large numbers of software developers – regardless of the underlying quantum hardware would certainly achieve that goal.