The Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs recently commissioned Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center for the country’s first . has funded an innovation project for the creation of quantum computer,
VTT enlisted IQM, a domestic startup, to help with the project, which began in late 2020 and will continue through 2024.
Owned by the Finnish state, VTT is one of Europe’s leading research institutions. It plays a vital role in taking the information learned by researchers in a range of scientific domains and preparing it for industry. The government firmly believes that the best way to prepare quantum computing for industry is to build a working quantum computer.
“When it comes to quantum technology, Finland has one of those unique opportunities where a small country has an entire value chain,” says Himadri Majumdar, VTT . Program Manager for Quantum Initiatives in, “Other countries also have strong ecosystems in quantum technologies, but in almost all cases they are working on many different disciplines and on many different platforms. Finnish researchers focus almost exclusively on superconducting qubit approaches , which they have been using for years and know very well.”
This would not be the first time that Finland has embraced quantum technology from research to industrialization. They have already done this for quantum sensors. Finnish spin-off companies have been producing sensors based on quantum technology since the 1980s and 1990s in the form of superconducting quantum interference devices (squid), which were commercialized as essential components in brain imaging systems. Finnish startups also commercialized terahertz spectroscopy and terahertz imaging – quantum techniques used in space applications and in scanners at airports.
The country is now well positioned to play an important role in the next generation of quantum devices and sensors – for example, atomic clocks scaled to smaller dimensions and used in consumer devices. Given Finland’s success with other quantum technologies, the government is hoping to get ahead of the curve on quantum computers.
“Now is the right time for us to lay the groundwork for bringing quantum computing to the industry,” Mazumdar says. “Late last year, we built a five-qubit computer. The ultimate measure of success is to run a program on it and benchmark the results. We’re developing the software stack for what we’ll need by early 2022.”
We do not expect to solve any practical problem with five qubits. But the device could serve as an excellent proof of concept. The project team will then expand computing capacity to 20 qubits in 2022 – and then to 50 qubits by the end of 2024, when they hope to solve real problems.
“We think 2020 is an important decade for building fundamentals,” Mazumdar says. “This is when the race to build a greater number of qubits is on. There will be two parallel paths. The first is the one we’ve already started: building a computer with a large number of NISQs.” [noisy intermediate-scale quantum] Qubits The other way, which will also be adopted during this decade, is to find ways to manufacture pure qubits – that is, qubits that are not noisy and do not require error correction.
Growing Ecosystems in Finland
To assist with the project to build a quantum computer, VTT chose IQM, a Finnish startup that was founded in 2019 and now has 140 employees. “We act as a systems integrator,” says Jan Goetzo, CEO and co-founder of IQM, “Our job is to take the pieces apart and build a quantum computing system.”
One of the pieces they use is a Finnish company’s cryogenic system blueforce, which developed from Finland’s long history of research in cold temperature physics. Founded in 2008, Bluefors eventually found a niche in quantum computing and is now the world’s leading provider of cryogenic enclosures, which are used to hold superconducting qubits at temperatures very close to absolute zero.
“Since we built Finland’s first quantum computer this year, we’ve seen some other startups emerging,” says Goetz. ,algorithm is one of them, and quantitative There is another one that was made recently. In addition, many companies from outside Finland have seen an opportunity here and are now part of the local ecosystem. With this combination of domestic startups and local subsidiaries of foreign firms, we now have a good ecosystem of organizations around quantum computing.”
While nearly all of the world’s industrialized nations recognize quantum computing as a strategic technology, Finland is particularly well positioned to embrace the new paradigm. The government is hoping to increase profits through investment – and some local companies and research organizations are also benefiting from EU initiatives, as well as venture capital that is now flowing into Finland to capitalize on the country’s skill set. .
The research and educational ecosystem is also evolving, with plans to hire more scientists and professors. VTT, Aalto University and the University of Helsinki are founding members of a research community called Institute Q, which is focused on developing world-class quantum expertise and helping businesses use quantum computing.
Finns know full well that Finland can never be Silicon Valley. The economy is not big enough yet. Finnish startups therefore know from the very beginning that they must prepare their products and services for export – and this is what makes domestic Finnish companies so strong in the world market.
“As far as IQM is concerned, we want to be the main supplier to supercomputing centers and companies that can buy their own quantum computers,” says Goetz. “As systems integrator, we provide a complete system. But, of course, the system will include more than just IQM parts.
“We built the heart itself, which is the quantum processor, and then a little bit of control electronics and software. The software is best described as a firmware stack, but everything else we just assemble,” he says. . “We buy cryogenics from Blueforce, we buy cables, and we buy amplifiers. Then we bring it all together.”
IQM built qubits for the five-qubit prototype and will continue to have up to 50-qubit computers, which are expected to be a working system that can solve real problems. IQM has its own fabrication line, which it uses to make processors, starting with bare silicon wafers. They also use the Otanano national infrastructure, which has the largest R&D cleanroom in the Nordic countries and is jointly run by VTT and Aalto University.
A new usage model will one day emerge
A good way to describe how quantum computers can be used is to consider how Google Maps finds the best path. This is a very computation-intensive problem. If you request it on your smartphone, it is not your smartphone that calculates the path. Your smartphone only reports a problem to a server in a datacenter. The path is calculated on some powerful computer and the answer is sent back to your phone.
Quantum computing services will be offered to consumers in this way in the future, with most users completely unaware of what is involved. Quantum computing will also help companies with R&D that use similar models. Companies that want to find new materials can request modeling and simulation services, and parts of those services will be performed by quantum computers in the cloud; Others would be done by classical computers.
IBM and other companies already provide quantum computing services on the cloud. But those services are used by researchers and are often limited to the simulation of quantum computing. Researchers can test algorithms on simulators – and those who have a few qubits can compare the results of the simulator with those obtained on their prototype quantum computer.
It is not yet clear how a practical system would provide services to application developers and end users. One approach is to have specific libraries – for example, a chemistry library that can be used to simulate new molecules. Application developers only need access to these libraries to develop a solution that will assist companies with R&D. At run time, the library transfers the work to a supercomputing center that does the work. When the supercomputing center receives a task, it separates the parts that go into a quantum computer from the parts that can be performed better on a classical computer. To do this, it would need a scheduler.
“Something similar is already happening for AI algorithms,” says Goetz. “People use the GPU” [graphical processing units] To accelerate the CPU cluster. Some problems run very well on the GPU, but not fix at all on the CPU. These problems are isolated and assigned to the appropriate processing units.
“For libraries, of course, you have to be between algorithms and compilers, and that’s a tricky topic right now,” he says. “We’re not yet at the point where we have a largely universal quantum computer where you just have one kind of compiler that compiles everything down to a standard architecture.”
Quantum computers are far from common. Writing programs requires knowledge of a given device’s architecture – including the quality of the qubits and the distance between them. Consistency and integrity are the most important factors to consider.
“Let’s say you have some bad qubits on the processor,” Goetz says. “You want to avoid them in your calculations and let them do only very small tasks. In the future, maybe we can have a system of feedback between the processor and the actual compiler, so that the compiler can generate computer-friendly programs.” But for now, we’re still at the stage where people really need to get their hands dirty and map the two worlds together.
“To help developers, we’re building a kind of firmware that will provide standard software interfaces,” he says. “Right now, we are integrating into Google Cirq, IBM Qiskit and Atos QLM [Quantum Learning Machine], These are the three main software layers on top. Anyone with software running on top of those layers would be able to run on our machines.”
The first practical application of quantum computing
As part of a project funded by the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs, a separate team at VTT, the Quantum Algorithms Team, is developing algorithms to be used on quantum computers. Content modeling is an example of an application area they are working on. VTT intends to take a few such examples to test the algorithm on a five-qubit system and to compare the results with simulations.
Like many other organizations trying to build practical quantum computers, VTT is looking at two broad types of applications. The first is to solve complex optimization problems that exist in many industries – problem domains, such as energy distribution, process control and fleet management. The second is to predict the structures and properties of molecular structures more accurately and effectively than before, accelerating drug discovery and development of new materials.
“No one knows whether the first practical application of quantum computing will be in finance, medicine, materials science, or any other field,” Mazumdar says. “But one thing that is certain is that it will develop very quickly.
“A trend we are already starting to see is that buyers and end users of technology (BMW, Goldman Sachs and others) form a triangle of companies, consisting of a hardware company, a software company, and the users themselves. This triangle develops a highly optimized solution around a specific use case. This trend will continue for quite a few years as quantum computers are very specialized and machine agnostic algorithms are far from over. Everything in the beginning Will be highly optimized.”
While there are still a lot of unknowns, one thing is clear: by building a local ecosystem exporting products and expertise, Finland stands a good chance to be part of the European answer to quantum computing technology emanating from the US and China. ,