Quantum Computing Has a Noise Problem

have quantum computers a huge problem. Or, to be more precise, a lot of incredibly small ones. These futuristic devices promise to revolutionize everything from the financial industry to drug research by harnessing the power of quantum uncertainty – instead of using bits like your laptop or phone, quantum computers use qubits, meaning they will be able to perform certain tasks run much faster than conventional computers and may be better able to simulate natural processes.

Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and IBM are racing to build quantum devices, but overall the field is stuck in an era known in the industry as “Noisy-Intermediate-Scale-Quantum,” or NISQ. Today’s quantum computers are sensitive devices that can be thrown off track by the slightest environmental perturbation: they’re slow, small and not that accurate, which means they’re kind of useless for the moment.

Sabrina Maniscalco wants to change that. She is co-founder and CEO of Algorithmiq, one of a few startups developing software for the noisy quantum computers we have access to today. “Software and algorithms for short-term devices are key to unveiling and unlocking useful industrial applications,” she says.

The company grew out of research at the University of Helsinki, where Maniscalco is Professor of Quantum Information, Computing and Logic, after working in South Africa, Edinburgh and her native Sicily. “It started with us trying to find the best applications for these very noisy early-stage quantum computers,” she says.

They agreed on the problem of “noise”. Algorithmiq is developing ways to counteract the noise that plagues quantum computing: not the whirring of a fan, but the tiny environmental changes that can knock qubits out of a delicate state called superposition. It’s this state – which you can’t roughly think of as 0 or 1, but both at the same time – that makes quantum computers so powerful, but also so difficult to build.

Algorithmiq develops sophisticated methods to model and mitigate noise so that early-stage devices can be used for experiments. Initially, the company is focusing on chemistry simulations – a promising potential use case for quantum computers as they mimic nature’s uncertainty. It tests its noise-reduction algorithms by simulating molecules like dichrome — which is simple enough to be simulated with current quantum computers, but complex enough to show the power of these devices. Maniscalco says Algorithmiq – which recently announced a partnership with IBM – plans to apply the same principles to more complex structures in the future, with potential applications encompassing drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry. “We see ourselves as the first quantum biotech company,” she says.

This article was originally published in WIRED UK Magazine January/February 2023.

https://www.wired.com/story/fixing-quantum-computing-noise-algorithmiq/ Quantum Computing Has a Noise Problem

Zack Zwiezen

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