Investors pour $215m into quantum computer promising 1 million qubits

The processing power is enough not only to blow any competition, but also reshape nearly every industry

A new quantum computer under development is slated to have 1 million qubits – significantly more powerful than Google’s most recent milestone. The photon-based commercial quantum computer that runs on light is being built by PsiQuantum Corp., a Silicon Valley startup, and has recently raised $215m from prominent investors such as Microsoft Corp.’s M12 venture capital arm, BlackRock Advisors, Founders Fund, Atomico and Redpoint Ventures. 

This amount comes on top of a $230m round PsiQuantum raised last year, making it one of the most well-funded startups in the quantum computing ecosystem. And while a working prototype is estimated to be years away, the advanced technology is aiming to blow away the competition with a far superior machine.  It’s an approach that differs fundamentally from the implementations of the current leading players in the field. Honeywell International Inc.’s quantum computer, which the company has said will soon be the fastest in the world, uses trapped ions as qubits, while Google LLC’s Sycamore relies on superconducting circuits. 

The brains of PsiQuantum’s system is a custom silicon chip intersected by tiny mirrors. Photons travel along pathways on the chip and the mirrors “bounce” them into an entangled state, the startup told Bloomberg, thus facilitating computation. A sensor that measures the entangled photons allows PsiQuantum to perform calculations and read their output. PsiQuantum says that its approach has two major advantages over the competition. One is that its mirror-laden chip can be made using existing semiconductor fabrication equipment, which eases manufacturing. The other advantage PsiQuantum touts is scalability: Chief Executive Officer Jeremy O’Brien said that he believes his team can build a quantum computer featuring a million qubits within a “handful of years.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant here, but I really don’t care what people’s criticisms are. I just could care less whether someone’s got 5, 10, 50, or 100 qubits. If you need a million, tell me how close you are in time and money to that. That’s what we’ve done,” Founder and chief executive officer Jeremy O’Brien told Bloomberg this week. 

Google made waves last year when it released details about its quantum computing achievements. The double-digit qubit machine reached a milestone in the field, crunching in a mere three minutes a calculation that would take a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years. At that time, Dragos Ilie, a quantum computing and encryption researcher at Imperial College London, told Forbes that Google was far from cracking Bitcoin.

“Google’s supercomputer currently has 53 qubits.  In order to have any effect on bitcoin or most other financial systems, it would take at least about 1500 qubits and the system must allow for the entanglement of all of them…,” he stated.

Commenting on Google’s breakthrough last year, Cardano creator Charles Hoskinson called quantum computing the “rocket science of our time”, pushing engineers around the world to solve “a whole new class of problems that previously would take the time of the universe to solve.” And PsiQuantum’s proposal is now definitely a game-changer: a 1 million qubit system that would reportedly take up an entire conference room.

PsiQuantum's founder and chief executive officer, Jeremy O’Brien, is a former professor of physics and electrical engineering at the University of Bristol and was the university’s director for the Centre for Quantum Photonics. While PsiQuantum has yet to publish academic papers that can be peer-reviewed, O’Brien revealed a blue print of a quantum computer at the World Economic Forum in 2016.

“This blueprint will enable us to build the first quantum machine capable of tackling important problems across artificial intelligence, genomics and genetic engineering, in finance and in the design of new materials, pharmaceuticals and clean energy devices," O’Brien said at the time.

"It’s also true that if you look anywhere across science and technology, you’ll find problems that a quantum computer can solve. And solving these problems will enable us to tackle some of the great challenges that we face today in climate change, in economics, in big data, in cybersecurity, and so the list goes on… I think, just as the computer is now at the center of our lives, so too — a quantum computer will ignite a new technology revolution that will transform almost every aspect of our lives, society and economy,” he added.

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