Straight-talk: Beginning your Company’s Quantum Journey
Straight-talk: Beginning your Company’s Quantum Journey
There are many reasons to get into quantum computing; you might have hard computational problems that only quantum computers can solve, you might want to future-proof your company from competitors deploying quantum computers (or get the advantage yourself), or you might just want to do what you already do more efficiently. Regardless of your reasons, unless you are planning to hire an entire team of quantum scientists internally, you will find yourself in a conversation with a quantum computing company that is looking to help you out. These companies will be quick to sell you on the amazing power of quantum computing (and it is amazing, no doubt!), but slow to understand your business. How do you know which companies are the right fit for you? Asking the right questions is critical to navigating this conversation and precisely the topic of this blog post.
The big challenge in the quantum industry today is that there is no source for definitive answers on how quantum computing will yield advantages for your business. (Any statements as such should be taken with the highest degree of skepticism!) However, as quantum hardware continues to improve, there seems to be little doubt in the scientific community there will soon exist valuable use cases—the community just isn’t sure which ones will be the first.
When these use cases do become clear, there will be a substantial demand to take advantage of them. Unsurprisingly, there is a growing number of quantum computing software companies (and even some hardware companies) that are hoping to make this value available to users for a price—and sometimes that price is not cheap. These companies typically offer cloud computing access to one or more of the following:
Before you can understand what the right fit for your company might be, it would be best to understand the purpose of all of these offerings. If you are already familiar with these, feel free to skip ahead.
Quantum hardware – This is where the magic happens. Engineered quantum systems provide a pathway to making devices that can efficiently carry out the mathematics that make quantum computation powerful. An offering of access to quantum hardware alone today, though, doesn’t mean much unless you have adept quantum scientists.
Quantum simulators – Quantum hardware today is still in its nascent stages. Most quantum hardware offerings today cannot do something that your laptop couldn’t simulate (although this is just now changing as Google has recently claimed the mantle of quantum supremacy). It follows that, if you are still in the process of testing and learning how quantum computing works, it’s way cheaper to simulate it on a classical computer. However, there is an exponential cost relative to the number of qubits, so while you might be able to run a 30-qubit simulation on your laptop, the largest supercomputer in the world couldn’t handle a 60-qubit simulation. At any rate, this offering also doesn’t mean much unless you are a quantum scientist (though things are a bit simpler when you don’t have to work with the hardware).
Quantum tools – There is no shortage of methods one can employ to improve the speed, accuracy, and overhead of quantum algorithms. These can range anywhere from finding short-depth quantum circuits that give you the same result as a longer original circuit (a process we call “circuit compilation”) to choosing which subset of qubits you should use for a given algorithm. Offerings of quantum tools are typically aimed at quantum software companies deploying algorithms or hardware vendors themselves, rather than the end-user.
Quantum algorithms – The offerings of quantum algorithms today are extremely limited. There are a few small examples of vanilla algorithms from some of the full-stack companies, but they are clearly for the purposes of learning and are not optimized to solve enterprises-scale problems. In the future, they will have value for scientists who know how to translate their computational problems onto a quantum computer.
In the quantum computing software stack, all of these offerings are important to making a system work. Note, however, that none of these offerings are really designed for an end-user who is unfamiliar with quantum computing. Certainly, none of them are designed to solve specific business problems.
This strongly suggests that the way forward in quantum for most companies is to partner with a quantum computing company that can analyze the business case and build a solution.
But how do you actually determine the right partner, and what is the role of the partner’s software stack with respect to the partnership? The spectrum of quantum computing companies today is diverse, and the offerings of different companies have varying goals in mind. If you haven’t already developed a strategy for your own company, it might be useful to answer for yourself the following questions which will inevitably come up in your discussions with quantum software companies:
Do these goals align with quantum software and hardware development? Do these goals incorporate education/training? Intellectual property? Software integration? When do I expect ROI?
In which aspects of my business could quantum have the greatest impact? Where can I find enormous cost reductions? How can quantum transform the way my company does R&D, or just augment current methods?
Am I looking for a more general understanding of quantum? Do I simply want to understand if a problem is “quantizable” or do I also need a timeline for when it is viable? Do I want a project that translates into immediate value or is an investment for future quantum efforts?
In quantum, how does my company plan to position itself relative to the competition? Are there major benefits for being the earliest adopter, or significant risks for being a slow follower? If my competition gets ahead, how do I catch up?
Do I imagine a long-term, continuous investment or a short-term NRE project? Which budget would support the investment? What is the cost to my company for under-investment?
Is there a person or team already dedicated to quantum computing? Are there different divisions of the company working on quantum in parallel? Does my company already have experts who could be upskilled into quantum?
Not everyone is in the right position to move on quantum computing, but you may be surprised by the available opportunities for companies with limited resources wanting to see results. The point of the above questions is to help prepare you for a discussion on what a solution might look like and how the constraints of your business fit into a project or partnership.
That depends, of course, on all of the above. We can’t speak for all of the other companies out there, but we can tell you a bit about how Zapata sees our customers.
Zapata’s mission is to accelerate our clients’ paths in quantum, balancing the current needs of the enterprise with the future promises of fully quantum devices. This means we create a business impact in the near-term while building capabilities and flexible software that works across a wide range of technology and hardware partners. For some companies, this means providing your own quantum experts the platform to develop your own tools on our platform, Orquestra. For others, it’s assessing where quantum can transform your business and developing quantum solutions for you. Our team is your resource for your journey to quantum. If you’re curious about what that journey looks like in detail, and how your business constraints might play out in an engagement with Zapata, please drop us an email, and we’ll be happy to share more.
Our reflections across hardware, software and the state of the quantum industry.