Breakthroughs in quantum computing keep coming – the latest quantum processor designed by Google has solved a complex mathematical calculation in less than four minutes; the most advanced conventional computers would require 10,000 years to get to an answer. Here’s the problem though: even as scientists perfect the quantum computing hardware, there aren’t many people with the expertise to make use of it, particularly in real-life settings.
Joe Fitzsimons, the founder of Horizon Quantum Computing, believes he is well-placed to help here. Fitzsimons left academia in 2018 following years of research at Oxford University and the Quantum Information and Theory group in Singapore, spotting an opportunity. “We’re building the tools that will help people take advantage of these advances in the real world,” he explains.
To understand Horizon’s unique selling point does not require a crash course in quantum computing. The key point is that while conventional computing uses binary processing technique – a world reduced to 0 or 1 – quantum computing operates using many combinations of these digits simultaneously; that means it can get results far more quickly.
The problem for anyone wanting to take advantage of this speed and power is that conventional computer programs won’t run on quantum computing. And not only do you need a different language to tell your quantum computer what to do, the program also needs to be able to work out the best way for the machine to achieve a given outcome; not every possible route will secure an advantage.
A further difficulty is that quantum computer programmers are in short supply. And quantum computer programmers who also understand the intricacies of commercial problems that need solving – in financial services, pharmaceuticals or energy, say – are non-existent.
Horizon aims to fill this gap. “Our role is to make quantum computing accessible by building the tools with which people can use it in the real world,” he explains. “If there is a problem that can be addressed by quantum computing, we need to make it more straightforward to do so.”
Think of Horizon as offering a translation service. If you have written a programme to deliver a particular outcome on a conventional computer, Horizon’s translation tool will turn it into a programme that can deliver the same outcome from a quantum processor. Even better, the tool will work out the best possible way to make that translation so that it optimises the power of quantum computing to deliver your outcome more speedily.
In the absence of such tools, real-life applications for quantum computing have been developing slowly. One alternative is to use one of the libraries of programmes that already exist for quantum computing, assuming there is one for your particular use case. Another is to hire a team of experts – or buy expertise in from a consultant – to build your application for you, but this requires time and money, even if talent with the right skills for your outcome is actually out there.
“Instead, we are trying to automate what someone with that expertise would do,” adds Fitzsimons. “If you’re an expert in your particular field, we provide the quantum computing expertise so that you don’t need it.”
We are not quite at the stage of bringing quantum computing to the masses. For one thing, hardware developers are still trying to perfect the machines themselves. For another, we don’t yet have a clear picture of where quantum computing will deliver the greatest benefits, though it is increasingly clear that the most promising commercial use cases lie in industries that generate huge amounts of data and require complex analytics to drive insight from that information.
Nevertheless, Fitzsimons believes widescale adoption of quantum computing is coming closer by the day. He points to the huge volumes of funding now going into the industry – not least, private sector investment is doubling each year – and the continuing technical breakthroughs.
From a commercial perspective, the forecasts are impressive. The consulting group BCG thinks the quantum computing sector could create $5bn-$10bn worth of value in the next three to five years – and $450bn to $850bn in the next 15 to 30 years. And Horizon is convinced it can help bring those paydays forward.