IEEE Quantum Podcast Series: Special Edition - Anne Matsuura
A Conversation with Anne Matsuura
Director of Quantum Applications and Architecture, Intel Labs
Listen to this Special Edition (MP3, 20 MB)
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 technology. In this episode, we are joined by Anne Matsuura, Director of Quantum Applications and Architecture at Intel Labs. Anne discusses Intel’s focus on drawing from a workload-driven hardware/software code design approach, including the software side of the house of defining and designing the full compute stack.
Brian Walker: Anne, thank you for taking some time to contribute to the IEEE Quantum Podcast Series. To start, can you tell us how you first got involved with research in quantum computing software, and what promise does the space hold for the future of computing?
Anne Matsuura: So actually, I’m quite new to the field of software, but I’m not new to quantum physics. I’m originally an experimental physicist and I was working on understanding the physics behind high-temperature superconductivity and other materials with unusual electronic and magnetic properties. The idea was that with having maybe potentially room temperature superconductor, that we would be able to have things like resistance-less power lines and magnetically levitating trains become more the norm. But here at Intel, I’ve ended up leading the applications and system architecture side of the quantum computing program and a lot of that is software. I saw the need to try to figure out what one would actually do with a quantum computer, its applications, and how one would do it, which is the architecture. It’s interesting for me that one of the promising areas, application areas for quantum computing, is likely simulating quantum systems. I hope that in the future we’ll be able to use large-scale quantum computers to simulate complex materials like the high-temperature superconductors. These are materials that are intractable to simulate with classical computers. That would open the door to the ability to design materials with electronic properties, magnetic properties that we really desire.
Brian Walker: There’s been a lot of conversation around when there will be a commercially viable quantum computer. Where do you see the industry on that journey and what needs to happen to achieve that goal?
Anne Matsuura: Although we’re still in the early stages of quantum computing research and development, I find it really exciting to see how this ecosystem has really developed. Companies, academia, government, everyone partnering together to continue to make steady progress towards realizing the true potential of quantum computing. We think a larger commercial quantum computer that hopefully can solve meaningful problems will be viable within 10 years, But to get there, there’s a lot of innovation that still needs to happen to lower several technical barriers. Among them are things like getting to a large number of higher-quality qubits, developing qubit control with scalable interconnects so these systems can scale physically to very large numbers of qubits, and that you can control very large numbers of qubits. Error correction to reduce the impact of qubit fragility, because these qubits are really truly very fragile, in most cases. Last but not least, development of the rest of the computer stacks, both the hardware and the software, to be able to execute complex programs efficiently and accurately on large numbers of qubits. So while I’m really excited about the promise of quantum, I can’t underestimate the challenges that need to be addressed in order to scale this disruptive technology up to a big enough size to do truly meaningful things. At Intel we’re working systematically to address these barriers.
Brian Walker: So it sounds like there’s a lot of collaboration needed between hardware and software in order to be successful. How do you approach this effort at Intel Lab?
Anne Matsuura: Yes, you’re right. A lot of collaboration does need to occur between hardware and software in order for us to be successful, and we do that effectively at Intel. We have a very multidisciplinary team of theoretical and experimental physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, computer engineers, digital design engineers, people who have developed products, software engineers. Having people with all these different technical backgrounds and experiences is really important as different points of view will help us solve some of the really challenging problems in quantum compute. In particular at Intel, we’re taking a workload-driven software/hardware co-design approach, so my team develops small versions of algorithms, small workloads from useful application areas, and we run these quantum algorithms on small qubit systems that we have today. By running these workloads on real qubits, we’re learning to design both our hardware and our system software to execute quantum algorithms more efficiently and accurately on real qubits. We’re learning what functionality has to be provided by the system architecture in order to run these algorithms on real qubits.
Brian Walker: Anne, what’s the importance of focusing on the design of the full compute stack? How does this help advance quantum computing research?
Anne Matsuura: I think it’s really important to focus on the design of a full compute stack, mainly because we can co-design better between hardware and software by the workload-driven approach that I just mentioned. Also, I think it’s important not only to be thinking about how to scale up the number of qubits, but also to be forward thinking about how do we develop the system software and the control electronics in order to ensure that they will both be able to handle the more complicated algorithms that will be run on large numbers of qubits; and that will be able to control the large numbers of qubits in the future. It would cause a lot of delay if we were to wait until we had a lot of qubits and then we started working on the rest of the stack. So I think it’s really important that we work on hardware and software together in a synergistic way, because it really does improve both the hardware and the software.
Brian Walker: We’ve heard a lot about the threshold that quantum innovation needs to overcome before it will be able to be practical. Can you define what you mean by quantum practicality and how that differs from some of the other benchmarks and thresholds the industry has discussed?
Anne Matsuura: Sure. At Intel we started calling quantum practicality the threshold where we have a commercial scale quantum computer that can run quantum algorithms from practical application areas that will have impact on people’s lives. It’s part of Intel’s mission to build technologies that make people’s lives better. This goal, which is a little more far-reaching than previous thresholds, and it fits the Intel mission well.
Brian Walker: Why did Intel choose spin qubits for its quantum program?
Anne Matsuura: We chose silicon quantum dot spin qubits because we can leverage the Intel fabrication process in our silicon expertise. Fabricating these quantum dot qubits are much like fabricating one-electron transistors, which is an area where we at Intel have a lot of experience.
Brian Walker: Given quantum is a completely new compute paradigm, what do you see as key skills needed to build a strong quantum workforce?
Anne Matsuura: I think researchers who have a multidisciplinary background are really important. For instance, a person who has an undergraduate degree in Physics and a PhD in Computer Engineering, or vice versa, is a very attractive hire for my team. I think that a number of universities are buying into this idea of quantum engineering departments. The different technical backgrounds are really important to quantum computer. I also think professional coders are very important for developing the system software, which is so important to developing large, commercializable, useful quantum computers.
Brian Walker: What activities is Intel undertaking to help establish a quantum workforce?
Anne Matsuura: We are really dedicated to taking summer interns at Intel, both on the hardware and the software side of things. Also, we’re involved in the Q-12 Initiative, which came out of the NQI initiative (the National Quantum Initiative) trying to educate K-12 in STEM education and the basics of quantum physics. This will help them, help the next generation, be more comfortable with the concepts of quantum computing.
Brian Walker: Anne, what resources are available for individuals wanting to learn more about Intel Labs’ work in quantum computing?
Anne Matsuura: Well, to learn about Intel Labs’ quantum computing program specifically, there actually is a page on the Intel News website with articles about our program that is publicly available. Also, to learn about quantum computing in general, there are a lot of books, courses and open-source software out there to use to begin learning. Quantum programming is a complete paradigm shift from conventional programming, and so there are resources out there to start learning. Intel has released a scalable, high-performance, open-source qubit simulator called the Intel Quantum Simulator that can simulate around 30 qubits on a laptop and over 40 qubits on distributed nodes. So that can also be a playground for people, and we welcome contributions to our code.
Brian Walker: Anne, thank you again for your time today and sharing some of your insights on quantum computing. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
Anne Matsuura: If there are any students out there or people with relevant technical backgrounds looking for a change in career, quantum computing is a very vibrant, multidisciplinary field that you might want to consider. It’s an exciting mix of fundamental research, applied research and more and more we’re beginning to build real machines. It’s a fun area and a challenging area to work in. I’m learning every day and I’d highly recommend that you look into it.
Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with Anne Matsuura. Learn more about the IEEE Quantum Initiative by visiting our web portal at quantum.ieee.org.