PsiQuantum envisions a datacenter-sized quantum computer

We're promised less science fiction, more contemporary hardware


Startup PsiQuantum has a rough vision of what its one-million-qubit quantum computer could look like.

"It's going to look like a big concrete building with a whole bunch of modules," Pete Shadbolt, chief scientific officer, told The Register.

"Inside those modules, a bunch of silicon chips, half photonic, half electronic, and the whole thing is wired together with the same optical fiber that you find today."

PsiQuantum is thus betting that silicon photonics will play a central role in its data-center-sized quantum computer.

"When you think of quantum computing, you think of milli-kelvin temperatures, atoms flying around in space, atomic-scale fabrication, mad materials, science-fiction stuff. We need to repurpose something that's already manufacturable," Shadbolt said.

We need to repurpose something that's already manufacturable

The system will be based on components made using today's manufacturing techniques, and won't require massive cooling refrigerators, we're told. "If you look at it, as a casual observer, it's like a big industrial facility with some steam coming off the top," Shadbolt said.

The big question is whether the ambitious system will ever see the light of day. While the biz couldn't provide a specific date on when the system will land, it hopes the silicon photonics approach will expedite the commercialization.

PsiQuantum's approach is one of many quantum architectures being chased by companies including IBM, Google, and Microsoft, and startups that include Rigetti and IonQ. Quantum computing is highly speculative given these companies are trying to commercialize systems rooted heavily in academic concepts. Some quantum systems are available in the cloud. Most companies are focusing on building systems with error correction that are scalable and reliable.

In quantum computers, information is encoded in quantum bits, or qubits. This, it is hoped, allows quantum computers to quickly solve large problems that would be infeasible for conventional computers. Error correction is required to deal with the finicky nature of qubits.

"You build some lattice-like fabric of qubits that are entangled together, then you do measurements on those qubits," Shadbolt said. Those measurements drive the algorithms you wish to run, "and also implement the error correcting code, checking for errors and fixing it," he said.

Avoiding errors

PsiQuantum's road to an error-corrected quantum computer specifically involves silicon photonic modulators, optical networking fiber, and other components.

"The idea is we'll take the same manufacturing processes that we used to make transistors. Instead, we'll make optical waveguides. And we'll put light inside the chip. And then we can manipulate that light with a toolbox of components," Shadbolt said.

"At the physical level, it's really single photons propagating in the same way that you'd find in a data center."

It's been shown that photon beam splitters can be used to build a universal quantum computing system.

"That's kind of the starting point," Shadbolt said. "There's a whole ton of complexity on top about that turns that into a computer, and it's going to be building-scale, high-performance computer-like system, and lots of silicon, lots of optical fiber in that system."

Like PsiQuantum, IBM is looking to build a one-million qubit system, which is aimed for release by 2030. But cooling could be a limitation for such a superconducting system, given they're operating at a hundredth of the temperature of deep-space, Shadbolt said.

"Photons don't feel heat. We do use some cryogenic cooling systems, but nowhere near as much," Shadbolt claimed. "Our qubits undergo photonic loss, they fall out of the waveguide but they don't really feel heat, they don't feel electromagnetic interference."

Connectivity is also a consideration in building the data-center scale system as it won't be possible to fit a million qubits on a single chip.

"You need to network chips together. You can't just use Ethernet, you need a quantum interconnect that can send qubits from one chip to the other chip. And the only good way to do that is with light, with photons," Shadbolt said.

The startup is getting the system components, such as single-photon sources and single-photon detectors, for its quantum system made via chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries. PsiQuantum said it already had the control electronics required for qubit coherence.

Intel is, meanwhile, targeting a quantum computer based on quantum dots that can be made in its factories.

Go public or not?

PsiQuantum is still privately held even after Rigetti went public and D-Wave followed suit via deals with blank-check companies called SPACs.

PsiQuantum has so far raised $665m in funding, with the last round raking in $450m from the likes of organizations that include Microsoft-backed M12, Blackbird Ventures, and Temasek.

Venture capital firms are pouring billions into quantum-computing companies, hedging bets that the technology will pay off big time some day as conventional computing reaches its limits.

Supernova Partners Acquisition Company II, a finance house that merged with Rigetti in a $1.5bn deal, stated that Rigetti's quantum technology is scalable, practical, and manufacturable.

PsiQuantum has customers and partners in the financial, pharmaceutical, energy, and automotive worlds to help commercialize its quantum plans. The company may sell time on its quantum computer via the cloud. But the high-risk, high-reward nature of the quantum computing space hinges on getting a commercial product to market quickly, Shadbolt said.

"We're building a data-center-like system – we've got to lay concrete, we've got to put up steel beams, and that's going to take time. But a sort of safe, immediate answer is that middle of the decade, we'll have stood up all the manufacturing processes. And shortly after that, we'll have a quantum computer," Shadbolt promised. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Quantum internet within grasp as scientists show off entanglement demo
    Teleportation of quantum information key to future secure data transfer

    Researchers in the Netherlands have shown they can transmit quantum information via an intermediary node, a feature necessary to make the so-called quantum internet possible.

    In recent years, scientists have argued that the quantum internet presents a more desirable network for transferring secure data, in addition to being necessary when connecting multiple quantum systems. All of this has been attracting investment from the US government, among others.

    Despite the promise, there are still vital elements missing for the creation of a functional quantum internet.

    Continue reading
  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading
  • Cloud security unicorn cuts 20% of staff after raising $1.3b
    Time to play blame bingo: Markets? Profits? Too much growth? Russia? Space aliens?

    Cloud security company Lacework has laid off 20 percent of its employees, just months after two record-breaking funding rounds pushed its valuation to $8.3 billion.

    A spokesperson wouldn't confirm the total number of employees affected, though told The Register that the "widely speculated number on Twitter is a significant overestimate."

    The company, as of March, counted more than 1,000 employees, which would push the jobs lost above 200. And the widely reported number on Twitter is about 300 employees. The biz, based in Silicon Valley, was founded in 2015.

    Continue reading
  • Talos names eight deadly sins in widely used industrial software
    Entire swaths of gear relies on vulnerability-laden Open Automation Software (OAS)

    A researcher at Cisco's Talos threat intelligence team found eight vulnerabilities in the Open Automation Software (OAS) platform that, if exploited, could enable a bad actor to access a device and run code on a targeted system.

    The OAS platform is widely used by a range of industrial enterprises, essentially facilitating the transfer of data within an IT environment between hardware and software and playing a central role in organizations' industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) efforts. It touches a range of devices, including PLCs and OPCs and IoT devices, as well as custom applications and APIs, databases and edge systems.

    Companies like Volvo, General Dynamics, JBT Aerotech and wind-turbine maker AES are among the users of the OAS platform.

    Continue reading
  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022