Who will succeed in creating the first quantum computer, the one that will revolutionize the computer by offering unprecedented computing power capable of solving today’s unsolvable problems? In this global race at the heart of the French strategy recently unveiled by Emmanuel Macron, the American digital giants are, of course, in the game. After IBM and Google – which are the two most advanced – Amazon is now showing its ambitions in the field loud and clear. And they must be taken very seriously.
Jeff Bezos’ company has multiplied recruitment in recent months with the now clearly stated goal of building its own quantum computer. And with good reason: quantum computers promise to solve computer problems that are beyond the reach of today’s best supercomputers. Its secret: the use of the laws of quantum mechanics to perform a huge amount of successive simultaneous calculations. In other words, to create more powerful tools to process information differently and to transform areas such as drug discovery, optimization of financial portfolios, artificial intelligence or even chemical engineering and materials science. As the world’s leading provider of IT infrastructure within cloudsAmazon must logically be at the forefront as it is particularly well placed to become the main provider of quantum infrastructure to businesses … if it actually has the technologies that will prevail.
Haro on the stars of quantum technologies
The strategic challenge is therefore great for Amazon. So far, its intake in quantum has been limited to a service called Amazon seizures. Launched in 2018, it involves making quantum hardware available to scientists and scientists, to enable them to explore its potential, based on the best technological bricks on the market. Amazon thus allows companies to use quantum rectifiers from D-Wave or even door computers from Rigetti and IonQ, on a subscription basis, to find out how quantum technology can give them new development opportunities.
But Amazon does not have its own quantum technology. So in recent months, the Seattle-based giant has been recruiting en masse to form a real shock team dedicated to quantum computers. These renowned physicists and other scientists are all one hundred, which is enough to put together one of the most important teams in the world. They work in a department called Quantum Hardware Team, affiliated with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is the US company’s “cloud” subsidiary.
A sign that Amazon has big ambitions: The company has not spared the funds and is targeting the best talent in the world. His greatest achievement is without a doubt working with many researchers from the very prestigious Department of Quantum Information and Substance (IQIM) from Californian University Caltech, and especially with its director since 2000, “star” in this ecosystem, the physicist John Preskill. This scientist is such a leader that his fame has gone beyond the circle of insiders: his Twitter account is followed by more than 112,000 people. Another big blow: Amazon recruited another big name in late 2020 in person Marc Runyana former engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who directly took the job as lead scientist in quantum computers for the technology giant.
If Amazon initially hid its intentions behind these recruits, it ended up unveiling: build the first “real” quantum computer, that is, equipped with “stable” qubits capable of performing a host of simultaneous calculations, on the scale of the infinitely small, with a very low or even non-existent error rate. It is still a fantasy today. For if some players – starting with Google – have been successful in performing quantum calculations, the qubits needed to explore parallel vast expanses of opportunity are terribly imperfect: as far as we do not yet know how to “stabilize” qubits, there are many mistakes. creep into the calculations and destroy the potential of quantum mechanics.
Amazon is choosing an atypical – but profitable? – approach to finding the stable qubit
For years, quantum players have been racing after qubit: stacking as many qubits as possible to maximize the power of the calculation, even if it means generating a lot of errors, by betting on the speed of the calculation. Thus, in 2019, Google claimed “quantum domination” after performing in just under 200 seconds a calculation based on 53 qubits, which according to him would have taken 10,000 years for the best of the current supercomputers. But the farm was actually a mirage: a year later, in the autumn of 2020, three researchers, including a Frenchman from CEA (le-Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy)has developed an algorithm that has transformed a simple desktop PC into a supercomputer that is as powerful as the one presented by Google and that managed to perform the same calculation in a matter of hours.
In other words, Google’s performance was very far from realizing the promises of quantum. Blame it on a too high error rate. But this experiment, according to some researchers, has shown the way forward: favoring “fidelity” – that is, the lowest possible error rate – for stacking imperfect qubits. This makes it possible to draw a trajectory: when the power of quantum calculation will be combined with a much lower error rate, then quantum calculation will definitely prevail over classical calculation by finally combining the calculation speed with the reliability of the results.
Arrived later in the race for the quantum computer than the other American giants, Amazon therefore seems to have to fill a clear gap. But in reality, the Seattle ogre retains all its chances, especially as it has the economic power and infrastructure to invest massively in research. The game is actually very open: we do not yet know what technology will succeed in stabilizing qubits effectively, and all the players are navigating blindfolded, doomed to make technological bets in the hope of finding the Grail.
The choice of Amazon in this area is very interesting. In a 118-page scientific paper unveiled in March, the group explains that the method it has chosen for its future quantum computer is “cat qubits”, explored so far by a Parisian startup, Alice & Bob, who proved their existence in a scientific article published in the journal Nature Physics a few months ago. A cat qubit is an “ideal”, flawless qubit, based on the quantum state of Schrödinger’s cat placed in a box, which can be both alive and dead until the box is opened. This technology provides an autonomous and integrated solution to the quantum computer’s central problem, error correction.
Until the scientific article in Natur Physics and the recognition of Amazon, which is based almost exclusively on this French technology to develop its own quantum computer, Alice & Bob’s approach was a “curiosity” in the quantum society, as co-founder and CEO of the startup, Théau Peronnin, says:
“While our approach remains a superconducting circuit, as Google or IBM do, Alice & Bob were on the fringes of quantum society because we do autonomous qubit stabilization, which did not seem like a potentially winning method before the publication of our scientific article I the one from Amazon explaining their strategy is the groundbreaking experimental paper by my colleague Raphael Lescanne cited 21 times, our theoretical roadmap cited 7 times, and the component we invented to achieve this, Asymmetrically Twisted SQUID (or ATS)) “is quoted more than a hundred times. The fact that Amazon is almost exclusively inspired by our approach necessarily gives us credibility in the world race because we benefit from a technology on them,” the entrepreneur told La Tribune.
Here, Amazon is then in main competition not only with the already well-advanced giants IBM and Google, but also with many other challengers, including the small French start-up Alice & Bob, which already has the advantage, thanks to its technology, to correct one of the two types of errors in quantum calculations, that of quantum state flip. In other words, Alice & Bob, and certainly soon Amazon too, can take a small step ahead of the competition in this hectic race for the first quantum computer.