Amazon to up the ante by venturing into quantum computing; lays groundwork

The technology is in its infancy and largely limited to prototypes and demonstrations. (Bloomberg)
Amazon.com Inc. is laying the groundwork for a quantum computer, deepening efforts to harness technology that can crunch in seconds vast amounts of data that take even the most powerful supercomputers hours or days to process.

 
Amazon has been hiring for a Quantum Hardware Team within its Amazon Web Services Center for Quantum Computing, according to internal job postings and information on LinkedIn. Marc Runyan, a former engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lists his title on the professional social network as senior quantum research scientist at Amazon and describes his role as “helping to design and build a quantum computer for Amazon Web Services.”

A spokesman for Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-computing group, declined to comment. Runyan didn’t immediately respond to a LinkedIn message.

Proponents of quantum computing say the technology will exponentially improve the processing speed and power of computers, enabling them to simulate large systems and drive advances in physics, chemistry and other fields. Rather than storing information in binary 0s or 1s like classical computers, quantum computers rely on “qubits”, which can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously, dramatically increasing the amount of information that can be encoded.

The technology is in its infancy and largely limited to prototypes and demonstrations. Scientists say practical, widespread applications for quantum computers are likely years away.

Among Amazon’s recent hires are research scientists focusing on designing a new superconducting quantum device as well as device fabrication. Developing its own quantum computer would let Amazon more closely mirror the approach taken by its major cloud rivals. International Business Machines Corp. first made a quantum computer available to the public in 2016 and has rolled out regular upgrades.

Last year, Alphabet Inc.’s Google said it had built a computer that’s reached “quantum supremacy,” performing a computation in 200 seconds that would take the fastest supercomputers about 10,000 years. But with the rivalrous spirit that has characterized the race to build a quantum computer, IBM cast doubt on Google’s claim. In a blog post, it said that a simulation of Google’s task could be done in 2.5 days on a conventional computer with enough hard drive storage, not 10,000 years.

Amazon announced its entry into the arena last year and, in August, launched its first quantum computing service, called Braket, which helps cloud clients experiment with quantum algorithms run on AWS. Once they’ve designed their algorithms, clients can choose to run them on quantum processing systems built by other companies, including D-Wave Systems Inc., IonQ Inc., and Rigetti Computing. At the time, Amazon noted its interest in developing hardware, but stopped short of announcing plans to build its own computer.

One person briefed on Amazon’s plans, but not authorized to discuss them, says the company is using a superconductor model, a similar approach to that used by Google and IBM, among others. The person said Amazon has been on a hiring spree to staff its quantum computing group.

Last year Amazon announced the launch of the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, which aimed to bring together researchers from Amazon, the California Institute of Technology and other academic research institutions to develop new quantum computing technologies.



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