After Quantum Supremacy: What Comes Next?

Many press articles have appeared after a report was leaked that Google has successfully completed its Quantum Supremacy experiment.  While this would be a significant achievement, there’s been some over exaggeration in the popular press about what this means. 

While we regard this as an achievement of an important milestone, we are still at a very early point of quantum technology development. Many folks have pointed out that the problem selected for the experiment is a synthetic benchmark with no real economic value. One shouldn’t forget that the primary reason for all the quantum computing research currently being performed is to develop systems that can provide solutions to real world problems that cannot be solved on a classical computer to enable the creation of newer or better products and services.

A lot more needs to be done to go from a successful completion of a Quantum Supremacy experiment to establishing a NISQ platform that can run real world programs for end users. With that in mind, we would like to present our view of what it will take for providers to offer a high quality NISQ computing platform to the public. A Quantum Supremacy chip is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

A picture of the requirements is shown below.  For a Quantum Supremacy experiment, only the lower elements of this stack are required.  But to provide a NISQ platform that can solve real world problems, all levels would be needed. Because we are limiting this discussion to NISQ platforms, planks for error correction are excluded in this picture since those will only be needed for the fully fault tolerant machine that aren’t expected to be available in the near term.

No current platform vendor has all these elements in optimal shape, but some are better than others in different elements. However, all are working hard to make improvements across the board.  Establishment of partnerships can help fill in some of the holes.  For example, software companies such as Q-Ctrl and Quantum Benchmark provide software tools to optimize the control electronics firmware to reduce noise. To help build up a software routine library for quantum chemistry, Microsoft has partnered with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and 1Qbit.

There are additional operational and logistical requirements needed to provide a reliable Quantum Computing as a Service (QCaaS) capability.  This work is critical, but it is not quantum science. Along with their announcement of the opening of a quantum data center with multiple machines, IBM also disclosed that they have achieved a 95% uptime with their quantum systems.  Achieving metrics like that is important when you are servicing end users but not when you are performing a Quantum Supremacy experiment.

So development and proliferation of quantum computing capabilities should be viewed as a marathon race.  Achieving an initial quantum supremacy milestone is a significant achievement, but one should view it as the passing of an early milestone in the marathon race.  Many more milestones need to be passed, but at least the race has been started and now well underway. We expect an increasing number of additional milestones to be reached in the coming months and years and look forward to reporting on them.

September 24, 2019

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