IEEE Quantum Podcast Series: Episode 13
A Conversation with Paul Lipman
President, Quantum Information Platforms
Listen to Episode 13 (MP3, 28MB)
Part of the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series
Brian Walker: Welcome to the IEEE Quantum Podcast series an IEEE Future Directions Digital Studio Production. This podcast series informs on the landscape of the quantum ecosystem and highlights projects and activities on quantum technologies. In this episode, Paul Lipman, president of Quantum Information Platforms at ColdQuanta, shares his insights on the state of the quantum ecosystem and speaks to the transformative nature quantum holds for bringing real benefits to humanity. Paul, thank you for taking the time to contribute to the IEEE Quantum Podcast series. To get started, can you introduce yourself and provide a little information on your background and current responsibilities?
Paul Lipman: Sure. I'm Paul Lipman. I'm president of Quantum Information Platforms at ColdQuanta. And in terms of my background, I came to Quantum really fairly recently. I spent the last 30 years in the software industry, the last 15 of which in cyber security. I was a physics student at university many years ago. Always retained a love and interest for the subject and then joined ColdQuanta in early 2021. In terms of my responsibilities, I'm responsible for our Quantum Information Platforms business, which today comprises quantum computing business computer Hilbert, and a variety of services that sit around that, and our Quantum Dynamics platform, Albert, which is not a computing platform, but rather a platform for manipulating and interacting with real quantum matter on the cloud to enable customers to prototype and design quantum sensors and quantum devices.
Brian Walker: So Paul, how do you view the current state of the quantum industry?
Paul Lipman: Yeah, I think the industry is really at a very exciting point of transition. I was reading about quantum computing; this must have been maybe just three or four years ago. There was a NIST survey of the State of the Art of quantum computing, and at the time it was really talking about that quantum computing was really a decade away to do anything meaningful with this technology. And I think we've seen a real acceleration of the capabilities, the variety of modalities, the amount of investment, both government investment, private investment that's come into this industry over just the last couple of years. And I think we are on the cusp of transition from research to commercialization. And so, you look across the industry and this is not just computing but really kind of more broadly in quantum. I think in the next year to a couple of years, we'll start to see the first really truly compelling commercial applications of quantum technology to start to solve some really fundamental problems and start to transform some industries in some fairly fundamental ways. The power and the possibilities of quantum are so profound. I think one could make an argument that it will transform the worlds in just as fundamental way, maybe more fundamental way than, say, the Internet. And this is going, again, broader than just computation. But if you think about the implications of quantum sensors, if you think about the implications of quantum clocks, the implications are really quite substantial.
Brian Walker: We hear a lot about the promise of quantum, but how do you personally envision Quantum helping to bring benefit to humanity?
Paul Lipman: I think one of the ways maybe that's kind of less obvious, but perhaps really significant is the implication of quantum generally for addressing some of the kind of fundamental challenges that we face, for example, climate change. So the obvious example in climate change is can we find, can we discover new chemical pathways for creating fertilizer, for example? So, the oft quoted Haber-Bosch process that uses something like 2% of the world's energy and creates 1% of the world's CO2 emissions, or maybe it's the other way around, but nevertheless a really substantial impact. And it turns out that actually nature does this really efficiently. We just don't really understand how and the modeling of molecular processes and chemistry at the fundamental quantum level may enable us to find new catalysts for doing this, this process that will dramatically reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. I think then again, if you go beyond quantum computing and you look at quantum sensors, quantum gravitational sensors, quantum RF sensors will enable us to detect sources of greenhouse gas emissions. To be able to make extremely precise measurements of atmospheric effects. So, for example, even down to the level of saying, how does a forest fire that happens in the West Coast of the US affect the weather system in Japan? And not just to give us an understanding of those things, but actually to be able to provide us with early warning and pinpoint sources of emissions, to be able to actually take action in a much more rapid fashion. So, again, we're kind of on this cusp of quantum becoming commercialized and opening up capabilities of this nature that have just never been available to us before.
Brian Walker: At a high level. Can you explain the cold atom approach to quantum computing and address the challenges and the benefits?
Paul Lipman: Yeah, sure. So, the most fundamental level, we use atoms as qubits. And I'm going to hold up here to the extent that you can see this, Brian. This is a glass cell that we produce and manufacture at ColdQuanta. It fits in the palm of my hand and it operates at room temperature. And it's an ultrahigh vacuum inside that cell. And so we track clouds of atoms in the cell, and then we use lasers to cool those atoms down, we cool them down for quantum computing to the micro-kelvin region, which is just a few millionth of a degree above absolute zero. But that's in a system that's operating at room temperature. We don't require cryogenics, and each atom of a particular element or isotope is is exactly the same as the next we get from free nature. They're absolutely perfect. They are themselves fundamentally quantum. So we're not having to create something that's quantum. We are using something that's inherently quantum. And then we compact these atoms together very closely and in a two-dimensional array, potentially further down the line of three-dimensional array. And these atoms are extremely close together, just a few microns apart. So 100 qubits, for example, would fit in the width of a human hair. And the cell I showed you before could hold tens of thousands of these qubits. And then once trapped in the array, we use lasers to manipulate the quantum state of the qubit to turn a 0 to 1, to entangle qubits together for executing quantum circuits. And that really is the fundamental kind of premise of the cold atom quantum computer. And you asked about the advantages and the drawbacks. Well, certainly one of the key advantages of collapse in quantum computers, this enormous scalability that we get from having these individual atoms be qubits, the ability to pack hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of them in an array yields an inherent high scalability. In fact, in our lab, we've already tracked arrays of over a thousand atoms, and we have line of sight to getting to many thousands of atoms quite soon. But the other advantage is the way that we entangle the qubits together gives very high connectivity, which is important for algorithm development, it's important for error correction. And then the other I think longer term key advantage is the ability to miniaturize these systems down. So the core of the QPU is just a glass cell that would fit in the palm of your hand. And the rest of what we have in the quantum computer is lasers. It's photonics, it's electronics, all of which over time will miniaturize to the point where eventually we'll be able to put a quantum computer in a rack, in a data center, on your desk in an office, put it on a satellite as a node in a in quantum network, it really opens up a range of very compelling use cases, probably the most significant engineering challenge in cold atom quantum computing. And actually, it's a fairly similar challenge in track as well is to do with the laser technology. How do you very accurately point lasers at the qubits and do that in a very stable and very controlled way? And the benefit that we actually have is we get to leverage the billions of dollars that are invested in other industries in laser technology. So, I think a great example of that will be lidar, which is the technology that is used for detecting the surroundings for an autonomous vehicle. And there's a tremendous amount of investment and innovation that's happened in lidar, specifically around this beam shaping, beam steering, very precise control of lasers that we get to leverage we use in our technology as well. So there's a real added advantage. That's the flip side of that engineering challenge in scaling up collapse in quantum computers.
Brian Walker: Paul, how important do you believe collaboration is to advancing quantum technology?
Paul Lipman: Yeah. I think that collaboration is absolutely and fundamentally at the heart of what it is going to take for Quantum to move from the lab to real commercial scale. And I think that's collaboration along a number of dimensions. It's collaboration between companies, it is collaboration between companies and governments. I think it's a collaboration between companies, governments and academia. And certainly, at ColdQuanta we're proud to have very strong relationships in all three of those areas. We collaborate very deeply with a with a range of companies, and we really view ourselves as being a quantum platform company, a quantum ecosystem company. We sell quantum products to competitors that we collaborate with. We collaborate extensively on R&D projects throughout the industry. We have a long history of partnering with the government, the US government, the UK government on research programs at the very cusp of the quantum technology. And then in terms of collaboration with academia, the company was actually born out of research that was conducted at the University of Colorado in Boulder. In fact, our founder was part of the team that created the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate back in 1995. And we collaborate with the university there. We collaborate with the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Now, with a recent acquisition, we're collaborating very deeply with the University of Chicago and will continue to extend these academic collaborations on a very broad basis. And I think what's interesting, if you compare this is there's a lot of discussion around how does the US compare to China in the quantum race? And I think the reason that's important is because ultimately quantum is an important part of national security. Certainly, from a cybersecurity perspective, it's important from a military technology perspective, but national security is economic security. And so going back to my comment earlier about the potentially transformative effect of quantum, if you take the long view, the countries that are investing in quantum, that are building strong quantum ecosystems will be the ones that will benefit ultimately from that economic growth. And the way that you build a strong ecosystem with really strong foundations is absolutely through the kind of collaboration that I'm talking about. So I really do view that as being really fundamental to the whole effort to build a quantum ready economy.
Brian Walker: What are your thoughts on the role that I believe Quantum Initiative plays in the technology space?
Paul Lipman: Yeah, I think there's a number of dimensions to that and I'm a very strong supporter, as I hope came across in my comments of collaboration of open communication. I think one of the really gratifying things that we see in the quantum industry is the level of sharing of research and transparency around achievements. know, it's kind of a natural tendency for a commercial entity to want to operate in a fairly closed way to what we typically call in the startup world operating in stealth, right? I think for the majority of companies in the quantum industry, actually, we see a very different kind of behavior where companies are sharing results and are sharing research. And whether that be conferences in papers through blog posts. There is a lot of sharing and really an effort to expand the state of the art in quantum. I think the other really useful part that the IEEE Quantum Initiative plays is building the community. And then certainly in terms of the education initiatives, workforce development is, as I think it's been often discussed, probably the most fundamental impediment to growth in quantum. And, you know, a statistic that really struck me recently as I was doing a bit of research on this. The US alone produces 65,000 computer science grants every year, but we produce 2000 physics PhDs and of those physics PhDs. And physics obviously covers a range of disciplines, from cosmology to biological physics to particle physics. You know, we take a rough guess at how many of those have physics training that's relevant for quantum computing or quantum generally. You know, maybe it's a handful of hundreds. And so, we're looking at two orders of magnitude different in terms of the number of people who are coming into the quantum workforce compared to the more general software industry. Which is not to say, obviously, that software engineers are not important in quantum. They absolutely are for so many things that we do. But in terms of the individuals with the deep physics training necessary to do the research, the development, the engineering of products, we have a talent problem, we have a pipeline problem. And so, education at the graduate school level, at the undergraduate level, even, frankly, reaching down into high school start to teach the basics of quantum and quantum computing and encourage individuals to take that as a career path is so important. And I think also the kind of extension of that is how do we as an industry reach out to communities that have typically been underrepresented in in science generally and certainly in quantum? There's a lot of effort to encourage women through the women in quantum initiatives, minority communities, under-served, underrepresented communities, because we have to be casting a much wider net to build the workforce that will really enable this industry to thrive and grow over the coming years and decade.
Brian Walker: Thank you again, Paul, for speaking with us today. In closing, do you have any personal perspectives you'd like to share?
Paul Lipman: Yeah, I think a couple of things. I think what I personally find so exciting about this industry is that I think where the real transformation is going to come is likely to be in areas that are not yet readily apparent. So we all talk about the potential for quantum to transform pharmaceuticals or financial services or logistics, machine learning. Those are the obvious areas, and certainly there will be enormous implications in those industries for that. But I think it's at the intersection between disciplines potentially where we may see the most radical transformations. So I'm personally very excited about the potential for really breakthrough capabilities and in the fairly near term at the intersection between quantum sensing and quantum computing. And there's been some early work done that seems to suggest if we can interact quantum sensors with quantum computers, quantum signal processing platforms, and utilize machine learning capabilities that may open up an understanding and a level of capability that is simply not possible classically, but again on its devices. And this there's a lot of very interesting work that's happening there. And I think the potential for some with some fairly radical leaps forward. And then I think on a more fundamental level, as a former physics student myself, I think this is potentially fascinating applications of quantum. For example, there's been some suggestions that ultra-precise quantum clocks, optical lattice clocks are the kind that we are developing at ColdQuanta, may enable us to unlock the secrets of dark matter. So, I think we're just getting started in quantum. I think as Jeff Bezos is known for saying about Amazon, it's day one. It's absolutely day one in Quantum. And I just can't wait to be part of the journey and see what comes over the next few years here. I think it's going to surprise all of us.
Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with Paul Lippman. To learn more about the IEEE Quantum Initiative, please visit our web portal at Quantum.IEEE.org