Quantum computing is complicated. Even when the technology works, there are only so many people who are even aware it’s a thing. (It is a thing: feel free to peruse our previous look at D-Wave’s tech and how it works, from the inside out).
The technology is used for solving very big, complicated problems that would stymie even our best computers, that still speak in a language of ones and zeroes. In that sense, Burnaby, BC-based D-Wave faces a problem common to many technology companies that are arguably too far ahead of their time: how do you get people (and big companies that can afford to spend big budgets on it) to use it?
This explains D-Wave’s move earlier this January to release an open-source, quantum software tool, qbsolv, to the online software site Github.
“Almost no one knows what software for quantum computers is going to look like in 10 years.”
D-Wave has a blue-chip investor base, over $200 million in funding, and an elite customer list that includes the likes of Lockheed Martin, Google, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Yet, it is essentially trying to overcome a super-sized startup’s conundrum: selling a product effectively when so few know what it is, much less how it applies to their business?
D-Wave is betting that enough companies recognize that quantum computing is going to be part of the future of business. The best way to learn how to use it effectively might be to just start using it.
“We’re trying to develop a quantum software development ecosystem,” said Steve Reinhardt, director of software tools at D-Wave. “There’s just not that much software for quantum computers out there and even less that is open source software.
“Quantum computing doesn’t have to be for millions and billions of people, but it can’t be for 10,” Reinhardt added. “We have to find the right interfaces. That’s exactly where the open source software helps us a lot. We expect others to have more and better ideas.”
What exactly would companies use qbsolv for?
Open sourcing quantum computing software tools will help the company get answers to questions that they can only speculate about.
“The interface that qbsolv uses to take its input is a well-known form for solving certain kinds of optimization problems,” Reinhardt said. “Think of it as a spreadsheet, which is not a great analogy, but it’s similar in the way that it could be used for a lot of different things…for example, take Fedex or Amazon, doing drone delivery, which have immensely complicated supply chain problems. Making it just one or two percent more efficient could save a huge amount of fuel. Airlines could also look at the same kind of thing.”
Scientists at LANL used the qbsolv tool with a D-Wave system to discover better ways of splitting molecules, on which these scientists performed electronic structure calculations. These are extremely complex scientific calculations.
D-Wave’s stakeholders see this as a long-term effort to build a quantum computing community – though the metric for success is unknowable right now. “What we can say is it’s the start of something big,” Reinhardt said. “The reality is that almost no one knows what software for quantum computers is going to look like in 10 years. We can’t just have a blueprint and build it, so we’re trying things. Since this optimization form is one that maps well to the hardware, it’s a reasonable place to start.”
Open sourcing quantum computing software tools will help the company get answers to questions that they can only speculate about in their office. “We’ve implemented this form, but is it attractive to enough people? How many people? Maybe there will be problem solvers who will recognize that they’re already using that form, so it would be easy to do. How many of these kinds of companies have problems not solved by classical systems?”
“One thing that we definitely believe is that the software as it is now is useful and we have some of our early customers getting value from qbsolv today,” Reinhardt explained. “But we see ways to make it better and faster than it is today.”
D-Wave is naturally working on other avenues to make its computing technology more powerful, possibly following along the lines of Moore’s Law for more conventional computing (involving a doubling of computing power over regular intervals). Last week, it also announced its release of a 2000Q quantum computer, along with their first customer for the system, Temporal Defense Systems (a cybersecurity company). The new product doubles the number of qubits in its processing system from 1,000 to 2,000, enabling researchers and app developers to explore big problems even quicker.
“The D-Wave 2000Q quantum computer takes a leap forward with a larger, more computationally powerful and programmable system, and is an important step toward more general-purpose quantum computing,” said Jeremy Hilton, SVP Systems. “In the future, we will continue to increase the performance of our quantum computers by adding more qubits, richer connections between qubits, more control features; by lowering noise; and by providing more efficient, easy-to-use software.”