IEEE Quantum Podcast Series: Episode 20


Portrait of whurleywhurley

CEO and Co-Founder, Strangeworks


Listen to Episode 20 (MP3, 18.5MB)



Part of the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series


Episode Transcript:


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, we speak with whurley, founder and CEO of Strangeworks. He provides insights into the evolution of the quantum space and offers advice to those who may be looking to leverage quantum technology or pursue quantum as a career path.

Brian Walker: Well, to get started, whurley, thanks for joining and contributing to the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series. Can you introduce yourself and just give a little information on your background?

whurley: Sure. My name is whurley. I am the CEO and co-founder of Strangeworks, which is a quantum computing software company here in Austin, Texas. And before that, I started my career at Apple, went into IBM, and have done a number of startups that were acquired by Accenture, Zynga, and Goldman Sachs.

Brian Walker: So, the company that you're with now, can you speak a little bit about that and how your company differentiates its approach to quantum?

whurley: Yeah. So Strangeworks is a bit of a unique beast, right? I mean, think about it from the aspect of most of the quantum companies you hear about. These quantum companies are based in the hardware realm, right? So, it's all hardware and very intense research. Strangeworks was founded to take all of the products of that research and deliver it in the hands of as many people as possible, effectively democratizing quantum. So, when you think about Strangeworks, you know, think about us as this little company based in Austin, Texas that's removing all the barriers to quantum from a price standpoint, from an access standpoint, from a knowledge standpoint so that people can turn "what if" into "what is" and use the most complete quantum ecosystem available. We have, you know, dozens and dozens of partners. We have over a hundred devices available online. And we want to help everybody move every idea they have, every bold idea, hopefully world-changing idea, forward faster with all of the quantum and quantum-inspired solutions that they need in one place, so they can stretch their budgets further, have scalable utility pricing and flexible spending management and unlock business value today with these tools, as opposed to waiting until we have quantum advantage or things like that, because if you wait, you'll most likely get left behind. It's extremely difficult for you to take a developer and make them a quantum developer. I know. I've tried. That was in my original plan. And so, you know, I believe Deloitte says it could take up to 24 months. So, you know, if you're thinking, okay, I saw the announcement on the 1000-qubit Atom machine or the 1200-qubit IBM machine, etcetera, etcetera, this seems to be heating up. Well, just know that five years ago when we started the company, there were only 17 qubits. And so, if you think about the acceleration and the pace of acceleration that's happening in the space, you pretty much need to get involved, and we offer the easiest way to get involved. It's free to go and sign up for individuals. The enterprise licenses are, you know, the cheapest ones that you can get available anywhere in the space to make it really easy. Again, Strangeworks removing barriers to quantum, that pretty much sums it up.

Brian Walker: So, what are some of the specific advantages this approach enables in quantum?

whurley: So, the advantage of this approach is that one, you can have many more people involved in basically problem solving, right? So right now, you need a team, you need somebody who knows the quantum mechanics, you're going to need your developers, all of that. Well, we've taken some of the algorithmic components and productized them as managed applications. So, take something like a QAOA or a variational quantum eigensolver or our new hybrid solver, a subject matter expert can use that and take advantage of quantum without having to know about the quantum mechanics, without having to know a lot about the quantum computing. They're just using that as a processing endpoint, right? So, to that effect, we've expanded to support for MathWorks from MATLAB and for Mathematica from Wolfram, so that those products are integrated with Strangeworks and Strangeworks is integrated with them. So, it's a much more holistic approach that allows a much wider group of people in your company to be able to participate in this quantum revolution.

Brian Walker: So whurley, that sounds very much like quantum as a service. Do you have any further insights into that?

whurley: Yeah. You know, most of the industry right now is based on quantum as a service. These machines are big, they're expensive, and there's not a lot of them, so usually the person that makes the machine has it in their data center and is sharing it out. I think in the future, that'll change, and you'll see ion traps become more productized as things that are rack mount. You'll see superconducting become larger in their capacity. But I think if you think of the way AWS works, pretty good hint as to how quantum is going to lean for the very near future, at least.

Brian Walker: So, what about new technologies like AI and machine learning? How are they playing in the quantum space?

whurley: So, part of the Strangeworks' vision and the vision that I set for the company with my co-founders was quantum and AI are seen as these two big technological advances. They're intertwined. AI is already capable of creating algorithms that wouldn't run on classical hardware and we have so many discoveries we still need to make about quantum mechanics that we need AI research assistants and the AI, you know, testing units, and so on and so forth. So, to me, these technologies are on a collision course. In fact, that's what most of my speaking this year, and all of my speaking next year will be about is this world of scientific discovery at the point of convergence of quantum and artificial intelligence. And they're even more tight if you think about it from the standpoint of quantum computing, you know, seen over here and AI seen over here and what we really have isn't really AI. I would argue that it's still really great at automation. And I've literally received death threats about that, but it's true. What Open AI and Samos has done is absolutely fantastic. But if you believe the world is quantum mechanical and your brain is from nature, then your brain is somewhat quantum mechanical, then to build a brain, you need quantum mechanics. So, you need a quantum computing infrastructure on which to build an actual AGI or a super intelligence. Look, that could be wrong. That's my personal opinion. But that's kind of how we view it here and that's what we've been looking and working towards for the last five, almost six years now.

Brian Walker: So, you touched upon earlier how the quantum space is rapidly changing. How do you see it evolving over the next 10 years?

whurley: Look, I think you see quantum computers being a lot closer to ubiquity; by, you know, the end of the decade they're probably in massive use. I look at the timeline and I think there's going to be a new complete set of challenges with the availability of a general-purpose quantum computer and mass and one of those challenges would be who's going to program it and that's kind of part of why we are taking this quantum and AI approach on how do you, you know, basically sci-ops tools, right? So, science operations, right? You have developer ops, you know, back in the day, because IT department, the developers, developers had different requirements and their power users and all that. Well, now you have all of this resurgence of deep tech in the investing community and all these science companies and so you need kind of this scientific operational model. So, I think, you know, how does it change? I think you start seeing most businesses use them in the next couple of years, if not faster. I think you see getting a lot closer to a general-purpose quantum computer by 2030. But by then, I mean, look, it's kind of a ridiculous thing. We talk about quantum advantage in the industry. We talk about a general-purpose computer. Let's go back to 1959. Jack Kilby invents the integrated circuit. Before that, you used transistors. You bought them one at a time and built your own stuff. That starts Texas Instruments building calculators. That leads to computers and everything from Cray and Sun Microsystems to Apple and Microsoft and all of this industry. We're about to go through that again. Right? And so, so this is the first step away from Von Neumann architectures. This is the first step into a completely new area of computing with a completely new set of modalities. And so, you know, predicting the future on it can be hard, but I can tell you that it is coming extremely fast. I mean, we had 17 qubits five years ago. We have thousands now. You know, another couple of years, we'll probably see 10,000 qubit, 20,000 qubit machine. You start getting to that, the world changes. So, when people say, "How do I see it evolve?" That question always leads people to say, "I want to know when I should invest in this technology." And you should invest now, because if you wait till that moment, your competitors will be too late. You know, it'll be way too late for you. This is something you hear a lot of people in quantum say. I haven't always said it. It is now a definitely a reality that you're facing as an enterprise, right? This technology is going to come out of nowhere. There's not a lot of skilled people available in the market to use the technology. There's not a lot of pre-canned things. So, this is going to be a little different exercise for enterprise to adopt and for developers to adopt as well.

Brian Walker: Speaking of that, as a CEO, you probably have some idea of the human resource challenges in the quantum space. So, do you have any advice to young professionals or students who might be looking at quantum as a career path?

whurley: Yeah. Look, I think quantum is the career path. I think we had the industrial revolution. We had the information revolution. Now we'll have a quantum revolution. And when you think about that from that perspective, first of all, it's not just engineering jobs that will be available, but focusing on those. Look, every industry, when it gets started transitions from advanced research to applied research. We are in that process of transition in the quantum industry and we're probably about right there, in my opinion. The closer we get to closing that gap, the more jobs there are for electrical engineers, so we take things that were theoretical, and we start working on how do we build 1,000 of these things and make them scalable and make them available. So, you know, computer science, definitely valuable. There's a lot of quantum information science that's available at most universities. There's not a lot of quantum computing everywhere. But when we started, there were four master's programs. There's now over 70. You know, there's plenty of opportunity to go out and get the education you need to get involved in this space.

Brian Walker: You're familiar with the IEEE Quantum Initiative. What role do you see it playing in helping to advance quantum?

whurley: Well, the IEEE has a really big role in advancing quantum. One of the first things I did when I got in this market was, I worked with the IEEE Standards Group to start the Quantum Computing Standards Working Group and PAR 7103-- I've forgotten now, it's been five years-- to start to get standards on nomenclature, which is something that IEEE can really be impactful on. Because people say a qubit, but a qubit is not like a bit, right? All qubits aren't the same. Like, they have different ways that they are composable. They have different ways that they're affected by different things environmentally. They give you different answers, maybe. So, standardizing that nomenclature is a role that the IEEE can really take. Evangelizing this industry out to all of the students and all of the people, especially the next generation of engineers, super, super valuable. And also showing technical leadership. Like, there's going to be policy coming up, right? Lobbying for the right policies that don't negate the science in an effort to prevent the fear and uncertainty and doubt about encryption breaking or things of that nature. So, the IEEE has a very big and a very important role, not just in its quantum initiative or the standards thing I worked with, but in policy driving and driving educational components for universities and other programs. There's a very big role for them here.

Brian Walker: whurley, thank you again for taking time to speak with us today. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners?

whurley: Yes. The final thought is that you live in the greatest time to be alive in history. We're on the verge of everybody becoming a scientist. We're on the verge of making massive scientific discoveries and advances based on artificial intelligence and quantum computing and their convergence. And I would encourage everybody to go out and spend as much time as humanly possible learning about what the developments are, learning the tools on the hardware side, on the software side, educating yourself as much as possible, because this is the next great entrepreneurial opportunity. It is the next great scientific discovery opportunity. It is just the next great opportunity. And I think it's really important to think of things like the advent of the personal computer and the homebrew compute club. It's about where the quantum industry is right now. To think about the internet and Tim Berners-Lee and Larry Kleinrock were doing some connections and people were starting to jell. It's about where it is right now. So right now, is the perfect time to jump in it and have the ability to build enough experience so that when this technology hits and the market really takes off, you're in a really great position from a career perspective.

Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with whurley. To learn more about the IEEE Quantum Initiative, please visit our web portal at