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Quantum bits: Intel unveils ‘Horse Ridge,’ a cryogenic chip for quantum computers

Horse Ridge quantum chip
Stefano Pellerano, principal engineer at Intel Labs, holds the cryogenic control chip known as Horse Ridge. (Intel Photo / Walden Kirsch)

Microsoft, Amazon and Google aren’t the only companies making headway in quantum computing. Intel is showing off a new type of chip for processing qubits, D-Wave Systems is getting a new CEO, and IBM is gearing up for quantum-safe cryptography. Here’s a quick scan of the quantum frontier:

Intel’s ‘Horse Ridge’ quantum chip: Intel Labs says its cryogenic control chip, code-named “Horse Ridge,” might well be the first of its kind. Developed in partnership with QuTech at TU-Delft in the Netherlands, Horse Ridge is designed to operate at temperatures near absolute zero — 4 Kelvin, or 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That’s why it’s named after one of the coldest spots in Oregon, Intel’s home state.

Such temperatures are required for certain types of quantum computing hardware — and that hardware typically has to be connected via wires to electronics outside the quantum refrigerator. Intel says Horse Ridge will allow all the computations to be controlled from inside the refrigerator.

“Intel recognized that quantum controls were an essential piece of the puzzle we needed to solve in order to develop a large-scale commercial quantum system,” Jim Clarke, Intel’s director of quantum hardware, said in a news release. “That’s why we are investing in quantum error correction and controls. With Horse Ridge, Intel has developed a scalable control system that will allow us to significantly speed up testing and realize the potential of quantum computing.”

New CEO for D-Wave Systems: Alan Baratz, the chief product officer and executive vice president of research and development for Burnaby, B.C.-based D-Wave Systems, will assume the role of CEO on Jan. 1. Baratz will be taking the baton from Vern Brownwell, who’s retiring.

Baratz has 25 years of experience in product development and marketing at leading technology companies and software startups, including Sun Microsystems’ JavaSoft. He came to D-Wave in 2017 and will oversee next year’s launch of Advantage, the company’s next-generation, cloud-based quantum computing system. D-Wave is also one of the partners in the Amazon Braket quantum cloud service.

“I joined D-Wave to bring quantum computing technology to the enterprise,” Baratz said today in a news release. “Now more than ever, I am convinced that making practical quantum computing available to forward-thinking businesses and emerging quantum developers through the cloud is central to jump-starting the broad development of in-production quantum applications.”

IBM gears up for quantum-safe cryptography: IBM is one of the pioneers on the quantum frontier, but its next big leap will be into technologies aimed at keeping data safe from quantum computers.

Hillery Hunter, chief technology officer at IBM Cloud, told GeekWire that Big Blue will be rolling out quantum-safe cryptography in 2020. Such software tools are designed to get ahead of quantum computers that could crack the codes protecting today’s secure transactions.

Hunter also touted IBM’s Qiskit software development framework and its quantum hardware development effort, most recently featuring a 53-qubit system that’s accessible via the cloud. As a follow-up, we sent along some questions about quantum to Scott Crowder, vice president and CTO at IBM Q. Here’s the edited Q&A:

GeekWire: Is IBM open to working with competitors to deliver a blend of quantum infrastructure and services?

Crowder: “Providing access to quantum computing technology and promoting the understanding and use of quantum computing is a core principle of our IBM Q program. We fundamentally believe this will take partnership. This is why we have made real quantum computers available at no charge to over 190,000 individual quantum developers since 2016. It is why we are partnering with more than 80 organizations to grow skills and solve today’s hardest problems. We are already working with companies and institutions all over the world that share this vision.

“You can run your own experiments on our real quantum computers here, and read more about IBM Q and our network of clients here.”

Q: Is there a specific programming language or standard that IBM promotes?

A: “We have chosen Qiskit for our quantum development tools, because it is by far the largest open source quantum software community, has the largest user base and best functionality. It has been proven to work with other forms of quantum systems, such as the startup Alpine Quantum Technology’s trapped-ion system.

“It is the basis for the cloud services that more that 190,000 users have registered for on the IBM Q Experience. It is based on Python to ensure that where we can simplify access to and understanding of quantum computing for developers, we do so. As a result, external users have run billions of executions on our systems, resulting in more than 200 published research papers. You can learn more about Qiskit here.”

Q: How close are we to general-purpose quantum computing?

A: “Theoretically, they are general purpose and could run any problem, but practically quantum computers will not replace classical computers. They will work with classical computers to solve the parts of today’s problems that classical computers fundamentally are bad at. Anyone can log in and run experiments on our systems, over the cloud, today in a way that enables hybrid use of classical and quantum computation. And IBM Q Network organizations are developing use cases in domains across chemistry for battery research, and finance for risk analysis and optimization – to name just two of many examples. The goal is to develop quantum applications for practical use in science and business.

“To measure progress toward more and more powerful quantum systems, we’ve developed the metric [called] Quantum Volume. It determines the full system performance of a quantum computer. The higher the Quantum Volume, the more real-world, complex problems quantum computers can potentially solve. A variety of factors determine Quantum Volume, including the number of qubits, connectivity and coherence time, plus accounting for gate and measurement errors, device crosstalk and circuit software compiler efficiency. The procedure is described in a paper by the IBM Q team on Arxiv.

“We have doubled our systems’ Quantum Volume each of the last three years. Currently five of our IBM Quantum Computation Center’s systems have a Quantum Volume of 16. You can read more about how the metric is calculated here.

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