To get quantum computers out of the lab and into the effort to solve real-world challenges, Intel plans to address each layer of a full quantum stack, according Anne Matsuura, director of Quantum & Molecular Technologies, Intel Labs at Intel Corporation.
Matsuura addressed the crowds gathered virtually at Intel Labs Day 2020 on some of those challenges and some of the opportunities for “quantum practicality,” a term Intel uses to describe ways that quantum computers can be used in the real world, such as assisting with drug design and materials research.
“Today’s hundred qubits — or even a thousand qubits — will not get us there, however,” she said. “We will need a full-stack, commercial scale quantum computing system of millions of qubits to attain quantum practicality for this type of ambitious problem-solving.”
The reason that those large numbers of qubits will be needed is due to the exponential computing power — and super sensitivity — of qubits.
“A quantum computer power grows exponentially with the number of qubits,” Matsuura explained. “So, theoretically, if we had 50 of these entangled qubits, we would be able to access more states than any possible super computer, if we had 300 entangled qubits, we could represent more states than atoms in the universe at the same time. It all sounds really powerful, but the qubits are very fragile, they don’t have very long lifetimes. Noise or information causes a loss of information. So, in reality, we’ll need hundreds of thousands — or even more likely — probably millions of high quality qubits for a commercial-sized quantum computer.”
“We will need a full-stack, commercial scale quantum computing system of millions of qubits to attain quantum practicality for this type of ambitious problem-solving.”
Fortunately, Intel, which has a long history of fitting more and more semiconductors on smaller and smaller chips, knows a thing or two about scaling.
“It is inherent to how we approach technology and innovation — and quantum is no different,” said Matsuura.
To address the challenges of mastering qubit technology, Intel is focusing on spin-qubit technologies, cryogenic control technology and full-stack innovation.
Intel believes that spin-qubit technology lends itself to the scaling challenge compared to other approaches, said Matsuura. It also is an approach that leverages Intel’s current manufacturing capabilities, Matsuura said.
She added that this also addresses a key challenge of delivering that quantum practicality — building quality qubits that can be manufactured in large volumes, but ones that also have long lifetimes and produce sufficient connectivity between qubits.
Qubit control is another challenge and it’s one that Intel is making progress, according to Matsuura.
In many of today’s designs, qubits are controlled by racks of control electronics with complex wiring leading to the qubit, which rest in a cryogenic refrigerator. This would take millions of wires if the design would scale to needed dimensions. Intel’s cryogenic qubit control chip technology is developed to maximize qubit control.
Matsuura also said that Intel has a plan to address error correction, another key quantum challenge.
“We are developing noise-resilient quantum algorithms and error mitigation techniques to help us run those algorithms on today’s small qubit systems,” she said.
The final challenge is building a scalable full stack quantum computer.
“Since quantum computing is an entirely new type of compute, that has an entirely new way of running programs, we need hardware, software and applications developed specifically for quantum,” said Matsuura. “This means that quantum computing requires new components at all levels of the stack — from the application, compiler, qubit control processor, control electronics and qubit chip device. Intel is develop all components of the full quantum computing stack.”
More information about Intel’s quantum program is available here.