Sep
10
2019
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Q-CTRL raises $15M for software that reduces error and noise in quantum computing hardware

As hardware makers continue to work on ways of making wide-scale quantum computing a reality, a startup out of Australia that is building software to help reduce noise and errors on quantum computing machines has raised a round of funding to fuel its U.S. expansion.

Q-CTRL is designing firmware for computers and other machines (such as quantum sensors) that perform quantum calculations, firmware to identify the potential for errors to make the machines more resistant and able to stay working for longer (the Q in its name is a reference to qubits, the basic building block of quantum computing).

The startup is today announcing that it has raised $15 million, money that it plans to use to double its team (currently numbering 25) and set up shop on the West Coast, specifically Los Angeles.

This Series A is coming from a list of backers that speaks to the startup’s success to date in courting quantum hardware companies as customers. Led by Square Peg Capital — a prolific Australian VC that has backed homegrown startups like Bugcrowd and Canva, but also those further afield such as Stripe — it also includes new investor Sierra Ventures as well as Sequoia Capital, Main Sequence Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

Q-CTRL’s customers are some of the bigger names in quantum computing and IT, such as Rigetti, Bleximo and Accenture, among others. IBM — which earlier this year unveiled its first commercial quantum computer — singled it out last year for its work in advancing quantum technology.

The problem that Q-CTRL is aiming to address is basic but arguably critical to solving if quantum computing ever hopes to make the leap out of the lab and into wider use in the real world.

Quantum computers and other machines like quantum sensors, which are built on quantum physics architecture, are able to perform computations that go well beyond what can be done by normal computers today, with the applications for such technology including cryptography, biosciences, advanced geological exploration and much more. But quantum computing machines are known to be unstable, in part because of the fragility of the quantum state, which introduces a lot of noise and subsequent errors, which results in crashes.

As Frederic pointed out recently, scientists are confident that this is ultimately a solvable issue. Q-CTRL is one of the hopefuls working on that, by providing a set of tools that runs on quantum machines, visualises noise and decoherence and then deploys controls to “defeat” those errors.

Q-CTRL currently has four products it offers to the market: Black Opal, Boulder Opal, Open Controls and Devkit — aimed respectively at students/those exploring quantum computing, hardware makers, the research community and end users/algorithm developers.

Q-CTRL was founded in 2017 by Michael Biercuk, a professor of Quantum Physics & Quantum Technology at the University of Sydney and a chief investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, who studied in the U.S., with a PhD in physics from Harvard.

“Being at the vanguard of the birth of a new industry is extraordinary,” he said in a statement. “We’re also thrilled to be assembling one of the most impressive investor syndicates in quantum technology. Finding investors who understand and embrace both the promise and the challenge of building quantum computers is almost magical.”

Why choose Los Angeles for building out a U.S. presence, you might ask? Southern California, it turns out, has shaped up to be a key area for quantum research and development, with several of the universities in the region building out labs dedicated to the area, and companies like Lockheed Martin and Google also contributing to the ecosystem. This means a strong pipeline of talent and conversation in what is still a nascent area.

Given that it is still early days for quantum computing technology, that gives a lot of potential options to a company like Q-CTRL longer-term: The company might continue to build a business as it does today, selling its technology to a plethora of hardware makers and researchers in the field; or it might get snapped up by a specific hardware company to integrate Q-CTRL’s solutions more closely onto its machines (and keep them away from competitors).

Or, it could make like a quantum particle and follow both of those paths at the same time.

“Q-CTRL impressed us with their strategy; by providing infrastructure software to improve quantum computers for R&D teams and end-users, they’re able to be a central player in bringing this technology to reality,” said Tushar Roy, a partner at Square Peg. “Their technology also has applications beyond quantum computing, including in quantum-based sensing, which is a rapidly-growing market. In Q-CTRL we found a rare combination of world-leading technical expertise with an understanding of customers, products and what it takes to build an impactful business.”

Aug
26
2019
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IBM’s quantum-resistant magnetic tape storage is not actually snake oil

Usually when someone in tech says the word “quantum,” I put my hands on my ears and sing until they go away. But while IBM’s “quantum computing safe tape drive” nearly drove me to song, when I thought about it, it actually made a lot of sense.

First of all, it’s a bit of a misleading lede. The tape is not resistant to quantum computing at all. The problem isn’t that qubits are going to escape their cryogenic prisons and go interfere with tape drives in the basement of some data center or HQ. The problem is what these quantum computers may be able to accomplish when they’re finally put to use.

Without going too deep down the quantum rabbit hole, it’s generally acknowledged that quantum computers and classical computers (like the one you’re using) are good at different things — to the point where in some cases, a problem that might take incalculable time on a traditional supercomputer could be done in a flash on quantum. Don’t ask me how — I said we’re not going down the hole!

One of the things quantum is potentially very good at is certain types of cryptography: It’s theorized that quantum computers could absolutely smash through many currently used encryption techniques. In the worst-case scenario, that means that if someone got hold of a large cache of encrypted data that today would be useless without the key, a future adversary may be able to force the lock. Considering how many breaches there have been where the only reason your entire life wasn’t stolen was because it was encrypted, this is a serious threat.

IBM and others are thinking ahead. Quantum computing isn’t a threat right now, right? quantum tapeIt isn’t being seriously used by anyone, let alone hackers. But what if you buy a tape drive for long-term data storage today, and then a decade from now a hack hits and everything is exposed because it was using “industry standard” encryption?

To prevent that from happening, IBM is migrating its tape storage over to encryption algorithms that are resistant to state of the art quantum decryption techniques — specifically lattice cryptography (another rabbit hole — go ahead). Because these devices are meant to be used for decades if possible, during which time the entire computing landscape can change. It will be hard to predict exactly what quantum methods will emerge in the future, but at the very least you can try not to be among the low-hanging fruit favored by hackers.

The tape itself is just regular tape. In fact, the whole system is pretty much the same as you’d have bought a week ago. All the changes are in the firmware, meaning earlier drives can be retrofitted with this quantum-resistant tech.

Quantum computing may not be relevant to many applications today, but next year who knows? And in 10 years, it might be commonplace. So it behooves companies like IBM that plan to be part of the enterprise world for decades to come to plan for it today.

Aug
26
2019
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Why now is the time to get ready for quantum computing

For the longest time, even while scientists were working to make it a reality, quantum computing seemed like science fiction. It’s hard enough to make any sense out of quantum physics to begin with, let alone the practical applications of this less than intuitive theory. But we’ve now arrived at a point where companies like D-Wave, Rigetti, IBM and others actually produce real quantum computers.

They are still in their infancy and nowhere near as powerful as necessary to compute anything but very basic programs, simply because they can’t run long enough before the quantum states decohere, but virtually all experts say that these are solvable problems and that now is the time to prepare for the advent of quantum computing. Indeed, Gartner just launched a Quantum Volume metric, based on IBM’s research, that looks to help CIOs prepare for the impact of quantum computing.

To discuss the state of the industry and why now is the time to get ready, I sat down with IBM’s Jay Gambetta, who will also join us for a panel on Quantum Computing at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, together with Microsoft’s Krysta Svore and Intel’s Jim Clark.

Aug
06
2019
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Quantum computing is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise on Sept. 5

Here at TechCrunch, we like to think about what’s next, and there are few technologies quite as exotic and futuristic as quantum computing. After what felt like decades of being “almost there,” we now have working quantum computers that are able to run basic algorithms, even if only for a very short time. As those times increase, we’ll slowly but surely get to the point where we can realize the full potential of quantum computing.

For our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, we’re bringing together some of the sharpest minds from some of the leading companies in quantum computing to talk about what this technology will mean for enterprises (p.s. early-bird ticket sales end this Friday). This could, after all, be one of those technologies where early movers will gain a massive advantage over their competitors. But how do you prepare yourself for this future today, while many aspects of quantum computing are still in development?

IBM’s quantum computer demonstrated at Disrupt SF 2018

Joining us onstage will be Microsoft’s Krysta Svore, who leads the company’s Quantum efforts; IBM’s Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort; and Jim Clark, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs.

That’s pretty much a Who’s Who of the current state of quantum computing, even though all of these companies are at different stages of their quantum journey. IBM already has working quantum computers, Intel has built a quantum processor and is investing heavily into the technology and Microsoft is trying a very different approach to the technology that may lead to a breakthrough in the long run but that is currently keeping it from having a working machine. In return, though, Microsoft has invested heavily into building the software tools for building quantum applications.

During the panel, we’ll discuss the current state of the industry, where quantum computing can already help enterprises today and what they can do to prepare for the future. The implications of this new technology also go well beyond faster computing (for some use cases); there are also the security issues that will arise once quantum computers become widely available and current encryption methodologies become easily breakable.

The early-bird ticket discount ends this Friday, August 9. Be sure to grab your tickets to get the max $100 savings before prices go up. If you’re a startup in the enterprise space, we still have some startup demo tables available! Each demo table comes with four tickets to the show and a high-visibility exhibit space to showcase your company to attendees — learn more here.

Jun
25
2019
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Snowflake co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise

When it comes to a cloud success story, Snowflake checks all the boxes. It’s a SaaS product going after industry giants. It has raised bushels of cash and grown extremely rapidly — and the story is continuing to develop for the cloud data lake company.

In September, Snowflake’s co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville will join us at our inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

Dageville founded the company in 2012 with Marcin Zukowski and Thierry Cruanes with a mission to bring the database, a market that had been dominated for decades by Oracle, to the cloud. Later, the company began focusing on data lakes or data warehouses, massive collections of data, which had been previously stored on premises. The idea of moving these elements to the cloud was a pretty radical notion in 2012.

It began by supporting its products on AWS, and more recently expanded to include support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

The company started raising money shortly after its founding, modestly at first, then much, much faster in huge chunks. Investors included a Silicon Valley who’s who such as Sutter Hill, Redpoint, Altimeter, Iconiq Capital and Sequoia Capital .

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

The most recent rounds came last year, starting with a massive $263 million investment in January. The company went back for more in October with an even larger $450 million round.

It brought on industry veteran Bob Muglia in 2014 to lead it through its initial growth spurt. Muglia left the company earlier this year and was replaced by former ServiceNow chairman and CEO Frank Slootman.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions, like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum computing and blockchain.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395.

Student tickets are just $245 – grab them here.

We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event.

For each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

Jan
08
2019
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IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

At CES, IBM today announced its first commercial quantum computer for use outside of the lab. The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications. That package, the IBM Q system, is still huge, of course, but it includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

While IBM describes it as the first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use, it’s worth stressing that a 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most of the commercial applications that people envision for a quantum computer with more qubits — and qubits that are useful for more than 100 microseconds. It’s no surprise then, that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are “designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle.” Right now, we’re not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable (and easy to maintain).

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

More than anything, though, IBM seems to be proud of the design of the Q systems. In a move that harkens back to Cray’s supercomputers with its expensive couches, IBM worked with design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, as well Goppion, the company that has built, among other things, the display cases that house the U.K.’s crown jewels and the Mona Lisa. IBM clearly thinks of the Q system as a piece of art and, indeed, the final result is quite stunning. It’s a nine-foot-tall and nine-foot-wide airtight box, with the quantum computing chandelier hanging in the middle, with all of the parts neatly hidden away.

If you want to buy yourself a quantum computer, you’ll have to work with IBM, though. It won’t be available with free two-day shipping on Amazon anytime soon.

In related news, IBM also announced the IBM Q Network, a partnership with ExxonMobil and research labs like CERN and Fermilab that aims to build a community that brings together the business and research interests to explore use cases for quantum computing. The organizations that partner with IBM will get access to its quantum software and cloud-based quantum computing systems.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Oct
04
2018
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BlackBerry races ahead of security curve with quantum-resistant solution

Quantum computing represents tremendous promise to completely alter technology as we’ve known it, allowing operations that weren’t previously possible with traditional computing. The downside of these powerful machines is that they could be strong enough to break conventional cryptography schemes. Today, BlackBerry announced a new quantum-resistant code signing service to help battle that possibility.

The service is meant to anticipate a problem that doesn’t exist yet. Perhaps that’s why BlackBerry hedged its bets in the announcement saying, “The new solution will allow software to be digitally signed using a scheme that will be hard to break with a quantum computer.” Until we have fully functioning quantum computers capable of breaking current encryption, we probably won’t know for sure if this works.

But give BlackBerry credit for getting ahead of the curve and trying to solve a problem that has concerned technologists as quantum computers begin to evolve. The solution, which will be available next month, is actually the product of a partnership between BlackBerry and Isara Corporation, a company whose mission is to build quantum-safe security solutions. BlackBerry is using Isara’s cryptographic libraries to help sign and protect code as security evolves.

“By adding the quantum-resistant code signing server to our cybersecurity tools, we will be able to address a major security concern for industries that rely on assets that will be in use for a long time. If your product, whether it’s a car or critical piece of infrastructure, needs to be functional 10-15 years from now, you need to be concerned about quantum computing attacks,” Charles Eagan, BlackBerry’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

While experts argue how long it could take to build a fully functioning quantum computer, most agree that it will take between 50 and 100 qubit computers to begin realizing that vision. IBM released a 20 qubit computer last year and introduced a 50 qubit prototype. A qubit represents a single unit of quantum information.

At TechCrunch Disrupt last month, Dario Gil, IBM’s vice president of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and Chad Rigetti, a former IBM researcher who is founder and CEO at Rigetti Computing, predicted we could be just three years away from the point where a quantum computer surpasses traditional computing.

IBM Quantum Computer

IBM Quantum Computer. Photo: IBM

Whether it happens that quickly or not remains to be seen, but experts have been expressing security concerns around quantum computing as they grow more powerful, and BlackBerry is addressing that concern by coming up with a solution today, arguing that if you are creating critical infrastructure you need to future-proof your security.

BlackBerry, once known for highly secure phones, and one of the earliest popular business smartphones, has pivoted to be more of a security company in recent years. This announcement, made at the BlackBerry Security Summit, is part of the company’s focus on keeping enterprises secure.

Jul
13
2018
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Chad Rigetti to talk quantum computing at Disrupt SF

Even for the long-standing giants of the tech industry, quantum computing is one of the most complicated subjects to tackle. So how does a five-year old startup compete?

Chad Rigetti, the namesake founder of Rigetti Computing, will join us at Disrupt SF 2018 to help us break it all down.

Rigetti’s approach to quantum computing is two-fold: on one front, the company is working on the design and fabrication of its own quantum chips; on the other, the company is opening up access to its early quantum computers for researchers and developers by way of its cloud computing platform, Forest.

Rigetti Computing has raised nearly $70 million to date according to Crunchbase, with investment from some of the biggest names around. Meanwhile, labs around the country are already using Forest to explore the possibilities ahead.

What’s the current state of quantum computing? How do we separate hype from reality? Which fields might quantum computing impact first — and how can those interested in quantum technology make an impact? We’ll talk all this and more at Disrupt SF 2018.

Passes to Disrupt SF are available at the Early Bird rate until July 25 here.

Nov
10
2017
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IBM makes 20 qubit quantum computing machine available as a cloud service

 IBM has been offering quantum computing as a cloud service since last year when it came out with a 5 qubit version of the advanced computers. Today, the company announced that it’s releasing 20-qubit quantum computers, quite a leap in just 18 months. A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. The company also announced that IBM researchers had successfully built a 50 qubit… Read More

Sep
25
2017
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Microsoft places its bets on quantum computing

 At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today put its stake in the ground and discussed its progress in building a quantum computer and giving developers tools to experiment with this new computing paradigm on their existing machines. Read More

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