While the quantum computing space may look nascent today, the big technology players are pouring billions into R&D – and technology leaders like Microsoft have already built and operationalized quantum computing-as-a-service (QCaaS) offerings. Meanwhile, businesses are beginning to test the waters with quantum computing. Many have identified the problem areas that are likely to benefit from advancements in this space: these include, but are not limited to, computational chemistry, materials science and financial services.
Considering how fast technology moves today than in the age of legacy systems, now is the time for businesses to start looking into technology more actively. Why? Because the power and speed of quantum computing promise to solve some of the most complex and challenging computation problems faced by businesses across industries.
In this joint POV article, Andy Packham, Chief Architect, Microsoft Business Unit at HCLTech, Matt Zanner, Principal Program Manager, Azure Quantum at Microsoft and Abhinav Khare, Head of Tech Venturing and Ecosystem Innovation at HCLTech, explore the innovations unfolding in the quantum computing landscape.
Quantum computing now
While quantum computing was merely a theoretical proposition until recently, early quantum computers have not only been built but can also be used by nearly anyone connected to the internet. Landmark developments include the availability of systems through the Azure Quantum cloud service, including a 20-qubit H1 Computer from Quantum, low-latency superconducting quantum solutions from Rigetti, and Trapped Ion Quantum Computers from IonQ.
Currently used primarily by researchers and for learning and exploring, the existing cloud infrastructure makes these quantum computing systems accessible to nearly anyone connected to the internet, "The cloud is a great enabler here. Right when you think about it, anyone today can open an Azure account, create a quantum workspace, and run their first quantum job on actual hardware for free. It's still hard to wrap your head around that it's that accessible of the technology today for anyone wanting to explore and start that journey.", said Abhinav.
However, these early quantum computing systems are not suited to unlocking real-world use cases right now. In this light, Andy asked Matt why businesses should care about quantum computing when the technology is nascent. Matt believes that quantum computing is currently at an inflection point, where companies can begin on their education journey to understand what may be possible in the future and leverage quantum-inspired technologies run on classical computing to gain incremental benefit in some hard-to-solve problems today.
Engaging with the technology now is crucial because taking advantage of such a technology is a years-long journey, and seeing classical problems from a quantum perspective will be instrumental in unlocking its potential. For this, developers can make use of the application development and test environments available in the Azure quantum ecosystem to simulate the use of quantum computing in their use cases.
As a result, industry leaders are already investing in technology with an optimistic and exploratory outlook. This increased participation from industry leaders, academia, researchers and investors pushes the ecosystem forward. Innovations are furthering technology, and technology is empowering innovations.
A closer look at the evolving quantum landscape
While the quantum computing landscape is advancing toward greater maturity with innovations every day, the ecosystem which makes the technology accessible is focused on attracting more people into the field. Building the exploratory quantum computing team at HCLTech, Abhinav has received a favorable response from more than 800 employees over the last year.
Participating in the exploratory ecosystem
Quantum computing is a complex topic with a steep learning curve for new entrants. Matt believes that the key to easing entry into quantum computing is to enable computer scientists to see classical problems from the lens of quantum computing. According to him, this is a years-long journey where progress will take time and participation will pay off. He said, "This journey is measured in years. So, we're dealing with many new capabilities and ways of thinking. Time to see problems from a quantum perspective and take advantage of quantum capabilities as the technology matures to help solve those problems." With Azure Quantum, his team is enabling people to attack a subset of optimization problems with quantum principles applied to classical compute resources and helping them realize the immediate and future benefits of the technology.
The emergence of impact areas
Critical areas of impact are beginning to emerge in this exploratory quantum ecosystem. Citing the complexity of training hyperscale datasets on classical computers, Abhinav mentioned the potential that quantum computing holds for the field of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and other areas: "From the predictions perspective, for financial services where time-window is short, certain predictions might take less time with quantum computing." Similarly, chemical industry enterprises are beginning to expand their portfolio by discovering life-altering compounds that hold the key to significant medicinal breakthroughs.
Transformer models like GPT-3 by OpenAI, which contain over 175bn parameters, take months to train on classical high-performance computers. By leveraging the structure of the qubit, which holds an exponentially larger data capacity, training such hyperscale models is expected to become much faster. Over the last few years, a new field of research – namely, quantum AI has gained interest, aimed at bringing the potential of quantum computing to advancing AI. According to Abhinav, the advances resulting from these efforts may get a fresh perspective on time-bound use cases of AI, such as portfolio optimization in financial services.
Empowering businesses on their quantum journeys
Remarking on the ease with which the cloud makes quantum computing available to businesses, Andy asked Matt and Abhinav how the ecosystem enables companies to embark on their quantum journeys. To this, Matt responded by mentioning Microsoft's partnership with HCLTech and how this partnership lays the foundation for increased adoption.
According to Matt, such collaborations also assist the Azure Quantum team in identifying barriers and make these systems accessible to developers. Matt also mentioned the importance of enabling access to a diverse set of quantum computers in allowing developers to test algorithms of different systems, which is a strong focus of the Azure Quantum team.
Along with Microsoft, HCLTech has started incubating novice research paradigms to progress toward industrial-scale quantum computing. It is intended to empower researchers, developers and businesses by letting them test their algorithms on real quantum systems. Andy said, "We truly appreciate the partnership and how that's driving value for what's important for all of our joint customers." Abhinav also shared his vision of building joint PoCs with customers that helps target use cases that show promising potential as he creates experience zones for customers to see HCLTech’s progress in the quantum space.
To that end, HCLTech is furthering quantum journeys for businesses by enabling them to set up exploratory teams and guiding them to advance their use cases based on extensive market research through the Azure Marketplace.
To try Azure Quantum for free today with up to $500 credit available per provider, please visit https://azure.microsoft.com/products/quantum/