Michael Biercuk, founder and CEO of Q-CTRL, is considered one of the world’s leading experts in quantum computing. As we round the corner into 2020, he shares his thoughts on the year in quantum computing and predictions for next year below.
The most significant industry accomplishments
“I think there is no doubt that the demonstration of quantum supremacy ranks as not only the most significant industry accomplishment of the year but of the field to date. It’s always worth reflecting to realize how much went into this effort, with efforts spanning many universities around the world. But Google’s investment in the Martinis Group from UCSB and their efforts to demonstrate the true potential of quantum computing on behalf of the entire sector are to be applauded. We’re very excited to see how this demonstration seeds a greater expansion of effort in industry, spanning software and hardware.”
The most surprising aspect of 2019 for the quantum computing industry
“It’s been surprising to me to see the beginnings of a contraction in investment in the sector. There is no doubt that startups like Q-CTRL and others have managed to secure substantial investment from top-tier VCs, but overall the landscape has become more challenging as the true timelines to realizing quantum advantage for economically relevant problems has become clear. In a sense, this is a good thing in that it weeds out irrational investors from the market. Nonetheless, it has been disappointing to see some high-quality teams struggle with fundraising when their efforts are so exceptionally strong.”
The biggest technology and business challenges that quantum computing faced
“Noise and error in quantum hardware remain the critical limitations of quantum computing hardware, and can even be described as the Achilles heel of the technology. Fortunately, Q-CTRL has invested heavily in the development of scientific techniques and professionally engineered products aiming to address this challenge. As we move from the first demonstrations of the viability of quantum computing to realizing practical utility for commercially relevant problems, this challenge will become front of mind.
“This objective arises at the same time that the industry will need to face a substantial cultural change. Most teams still maintain a deep do-it-yourself culture as founders and senior leaders have largely come from academic physics research. As an industry we need to learn from software development, which relies heavily on integrating third-party tools and products, to maximize efficiency and support scaling. Quantum computing is too large for any one team do tackle every problem; there’s a huge opportunity to leverage the specialized expertise growing in the sector to massively accelerate efforts.”
Top accomplishments for Q-CTRL
“In 2019 we had a number of major accomplishments worthy of note. First, our team rolled out our professional-grade Python tools for the integration of quantum control into quantum computing hardware. This software suite called BOULDER OPAL joined our first “introductory” product BLACK OPAL on the market and has already attracted top-tier customers and users across academia and industry. Building on this effort and our successful research engagements, we have also been able to secure a major funding round allowing us to grow our efforts in quantum computing and beyond. We were thrilled to add SquarePeg Capital and Sierra Ventures to our Tier-1 investor syndicate.”
Interest in the technology will grow from investors and enterprise
“The demonstration of quantum supremacy is highly likely to drive major attention towards the field, and shift the perspectives of those investors and potential end-users who have remained on the sidelines until now. As this investment drives the diversification of active industrial hardware teams, Q-CTRL will be ready to assist, helping teams accelerate their efforts through professionally engineered infrastructure software. We will of course also work hard to ensure that the timelines to the demonstration of useful quantum computing applications are fully understood as a trusted participant in the industry.”
Avoiding potential pitfalls in the growth of quantum computing next year
“The potential downsides we see will not be immediate but may have their roots in developments this coming year. First, we want to ensure that the successes seen in 2019 don’t lead to divestment from basic research in the field. There are still more unanswered questions than answered, and we need a well-funded academic research sector as much as industrial activity at scale. Next, we need to ensure that the field remains open and globally engaged – characteristics that have led to the successes we’ve seen recently. Poorly crafted and nationalistic export controls could seriously damage progress in the field. Finally, it’s essential that we ensure that in the wake of quantum supremacy – and the inevitable debates around it – that we don’t allow irrational exuberance to mask the fact that quantum computing remains the deepest of deep tech, and useful applications remain some years away.”
Q-CTRL’s business outlook for 2020
“2020 will be Q-CTRL’s third full year of operation, and we will see a major expansion of efforts following our Series A fundraising in 2019. First and foremost, we will continue building professionally engineered products that provide features that cannot be matched by existing tools. The combination of advanced error-suppressing capability developed in collaboration with experimental teams, with professional cloud-based software engineering, is a truly unique offering that we are excited to expand. Next, we will ramp up our geographic expansion, building out our Los Angeles office and establishing a physical presence in the EU. This expansion allows us to be closer to our colleagues and customers, and to ensure we attract the best quantum control talent globally. Finally, we will be expanding our product offerings beyond quantum computing to service applications in precision navigation and timing, as well as quantum sensing for defense and aerospace. Building out our product offerings outside of quantum computing is a key strategy for us to become the trusted provider of quantum control solutions across all applications globally.”
About Michael J. Biercuk, founder and CEO, Q-CTRL
Michael Biercuk is a professor of Quantum Physics and Quantum Technology at The University of Sydney leading a team working to develop advanced technology powered by quantum physics. He is also Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems. Out of his academic research, Biercuk saw a gap in the market for a company that made his team’s specialist knowledge and capabilities available outside of the lab. He founded Q-CTRL in 2017 with venture capital backing from some of the world’s leading investors, including Sierra Ventures and Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley.
Q-CTRL develops software to solve a major obstacle in the path toward useful quantum computers: the prevalence of computational errors. Reducing errors caused by environmental ‘noise’ is critical to achieving sought-after breakthroughs in scientific research and commercial applications with quantum computers.
Considered one of the world’s leading authorities on quantum physics and technology, Biercuk is a TEDx and SXSW speaking alumnus and winner of the 2015 Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.
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