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This article was published on March 24, 2022

Google wants to win the quantum computing race by being the tortoise, not the hare

Time crystals and corporate starbursts: everything you need to know about Big G's quantum ambitions


Google wants to win the quantum computing race by being the tortoise, not the hare
Tristan Greene
Story by

Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

The most exciting name in quantum computing today is Google. Last year’s time crystals breakthrough was the culmination of decades of academic effort from the Search giant, and it proved Big G is a clear front-runner in the world of cutting-edge quantum physics research.

Despite having virtually no B2B presence in the quantum computing marketplace, the Mountain View company managed to leverage itself as one of the most important players in the field.

Google’s position comes as a bit of a surprise when you consider the competition. D-Wave’s been making quantum computers for about as long as Google has been in business. And both Microsoft and IBM have focused quantum computing ecosystems generating revenue today to offset their massive research expenditures.

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But Google’s not as big a newcomer to the field as you might imagine. Its quantum ambitions go all the way back to at least 2005-2006, when its AI division began working on algorithms designed to run on D-Wave quantum computing chips.

Eventually, the partnership would pay off and, in 2009, D-Wave and Google demonstrated quantum speedup for an image classification algorithm.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Google’s managed to build at least three gate-based quantum processors of its own, demonstrated a new phase of matter (time crystals), and supposedly achieved “quantum supremacy.” Not bad for a company most people wouldn’t associate with the field of quantum physics.

In fact, if you take a look at the whole picture, it’s clear that Google — or, to be more accurate, its parent company Alphabet — has its sights set on being the world’s premiere quantum computing organization.

We’ve seen this kind of focus before when the company pivoted from mobile-first to AI-first in 2016. And, arguably, Google’s managed to nab the top spot among US AI companies in the time since.

Google’s taken the same tried-and-true approach to building out its quantum ambitions. And, based on recent developments, it appears as though the Mountain View company’s long-term plans are starting to come into focus.

On your marks

Google’s working with institutions ranging from NASA to Stanford to develop the quantum computing systems of the future. Its work demonstrating quantum advantage in gate-based quantum systems and the aforementioned time crystals breakthrough has cemented it as a stalwart member of the quantum physics world.

But research at the edge is hard to monetize. That’s why Microsoft recently partnered up with Pasqal to round out its cloud-based quantum access offerings while it continues to research its far out topographical qubit ideas.

And D-Wave spent decades developing useful quantum computers capable of solving problems right away before it finally began researching futuristic gate-based systems in earnest.

Even IBM, Google’s closest running mate in the research field among big tech outfits, has prioritized cloud access for business clients over its own monumental research efforts.

Based on everything we’ve seen, Google’s as capable of fielding a functioning quantum-as-a-service paradigm as any other player in the field. And it may even be ahead of the pack when it comes to the race towards quantum advantage — a quantum computer capable of surpassing every supercomputer on the planet.

In fact Google Quantum AI, which was founded in partnership with NASA’s quantum labs, believes it’ll have a gate-based quantum computer capable of quantum advantage within the next decade.

Get set

Of course the competition — IBM, Microsoft, and D-Wave — have all made similar claims. And that makes this one of the most potentially-lucrative races in technology history.

As we’ve argued, IBM’s off to a head start and Microsoft looks poised to dominate this market in a matter of a few years. But Google’s got a few aces up its sleeves that could shake everything up.

Parent company Alphabet recently starbursted its SandboxAQ division into its own company, now a Google sibling. It’s unclear exactly what SandboxAQ intends to do now that it’s spun out, but it’s positioned as a quantum-and-AI-as-a-service company. We expect it’ll begin servicing business clients in partnership with Google in the very near-term.

And, in doing so, Google will shore up its short-term quantum endeavors in much the same way Microsoft has recently. The major difference here is that Alphabet controls both Google and SandboxAQ, whereas Microsoft can cut its Pasqal partnership if the tide changes.

Go?

It’ll be interesting to see the likes of Alphabet and Microsoft spar over future government contracts for quantum services. Where Microsoft tends to outperform Google in the bidding arena, Big G already has close ties to NASA and is intrinsically involved in its quantum ambitions for the US space program.

At the end of the day, Google’s betting it all on its research arms covering a lot of ground over the next ten years. If time crystals and the company’s other gate-based quantum computing research veins don’t pan out, it could end up lagging too far behind the competition to matter. 

Neural’s take: everything we’ve seen in the past five years tells us the exact opposite is likely to happen.

We can safely assume we haven’t seen the last of Google’s quantum computing research breakthroughs, and that tells us we could very well be living in the moments right before the slow-and-steady tortoise starts to make up ground on the speedy hare. 

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