Rene: Hi! Welcome to QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. My name is Rene from Valorem Reply and today we're going to hear what has happened in the Azure quantum and QDK space since we talked last time with Kitty Yeung in the Spring. And for this today, I'm very honored to have a special expert guest today, Anita Ramanan. Hi Anita, welcome to the show. How are you today? And I know you’re a tea lover, so do you have any tea in the morning, like you’re drinking right now, anything to recommend?
Anita: Hey! Yeah, it's amazing to be here. Thank you for inviting me. And yes, I'm currently enjoying a highly unsophisticated cup of breakfast tea with milk. So, nothing special.
Rene: Just a typical [tea] basically. Because I am also a big tea lover. I love green tea. Typically, that's what I drink the whole day and it keeps you awake. But anyhow, let's talk a little bit about yourself and also your background when it comes to quantum computing. So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Anita: Yeah, sure. So, my background is actually in physical chemistry and atomic and particle physics. So, I spent a lot of my uni time studying things adjacent to quantum computing. I discovered gaming in uni, as lots of people do, and then decided I wanted to become a developer. So, I applied to the graduate [program] at Microsoft. And kind of have been meandering through several different dev roles ever since, so I joined about seven years ago. Fairly recently, a couple years ago, I got the chance to join my passions for both quantum physics and computing and joined the Microsoft Quantum Team. So, I've been there ever since. I've been loving it so far. My day job as a quantum software engineer focuses mostly on building custom optimization solutions, using quantum-inspired optimization algorithms. So, solving our customers most difficult business optimization problems.
Rene: Awesome. Yeah, quantum-inspired optimization is also a super interesting topic for myself. Because we can already achieve significant impact with it today, right?
Rene: No, go ahead.
Anita: Yeah. Just you know, depending on the problem, we can see some pretty significant improvements. You know, depending on the traditional method that is being used.
Rene: That's the incredible point about it, right? We can achieve impact today already on classical hardware sometimes like GPU arrays and so on, with quantum-inspired computing and that is just mind-blowing in the end actually.
Rene: Right. So, in season one and two of QuBites we already talked with your colleagues Fabrice Frachon and Kitty Yeung, and we also had MVP Dr Sarah Kaiser, and we heard a lot about Azure Quantum, QDK, Q#, and all the goodies, right? And the last time we talked with Kitty was in Spring 2021 and now we're approaching Fall of 2021. So, can you give us an update what happened in the Azure quantum computing world?
Anita: I can indeed. And actually, quite a lot has happened. So, we recently had - I say recently, like a month and a half ago or something now – had Azure Quantum Developer Workshop 3, and there we released a bunch of announcements. My personal favorite is the availability of Jupyter notebooks directly through the Azure portal for quantum computing. Oh, and optimization. So, you can go straight from creating a workspace and choosing your providers, both optimization and QC, and go then straight through without any installs or copy pasting subscription IDs. You just click, ‘I want this sample,’ and you're off. It's amazing. I've been using it for demos and all sorts of things in the last few weeks. We also announced upcoming support for other Python Quantum SDKs, so that's something to definitely look out for. We're releasing the Microsoft Quantum suite of quantum simulators and resource estimators as well through the Azure Quantum Portal, or through the Azure Quantum service rather. You can of course, already get those for free with the QDK locally, but now with the expanded hardware availability on the cloud, you can simulate slightly bigger things. We also announced the Azure Quantum Credits program. So, this allows customers to come and apply for up to $10,000 of funding to use against a specific hardware provider. So, this can enable you to perhaps develop a quantum algorithm to tackle a business problem for example. And these are assessed on a case-by-case basis. So, we can include the link to apply in this unit. Finally, we have made available very recently two new solvers for the optimization service. So, these are Substochastic Monte Carlo (SSMC) and Population Annealing (PA). And if you're curious to get early access to the new solvers as they come out, we can also include a link to sign up for the early access program for this particular Azure Quantum service.
Rene: That sounds amazing. And like you said, we will put a link in the in the show notes and transcripts for the early access application. And so, my second question is what impact and adoption of Azure Quantum do you already see out there in the world and maybe you have an example ready to share with the audience here?
Anita: Yeah. So actually, it's been really interesting journey. We're seeing lots of different types of customers come in and try out the service both from the quantum computing and the optimization perspectives. And these range from people just wanting to see if they can run something on quantum hardware through to developing real algorithms and optimizing them for business use cases to run on future quantum computers. And of course, as you mentioned, developing real business applications using the optimization services that they can actually use today. So, as I as I mentioned, most of my work focuses on the optimization part, so I’ll kind of focus the examples there. So, we've seen quite a few examples of scheduling problems coming through. We have a job shop scheduling sample and it's available through GitHub, and we've seen a few customers take that and modify it for their business needs. That's been really cool to see. We've seen some people coming in with financial portfolio management problems. OTI Lumionics came through with fast materials designed using the optimization service. 1QBit have been working on drug discovery and material science using the accelerated optimization to help them accelerate specific parts of that pipeline. And then we had Jij and Toyota Tsusho who partnered to do this really interesting optimization case study, where their optimizing when traffic signals go red and green. So, by doing that in a more optimal way, you can reduce congestion, reduce emissions, and reduce road rage, which is always a good thing.
Rene: Yeah, road rage is a big thing here in Germany sometimes. So, people get a little bit too aggressive when they’re driving. So yeah, that helps. Especially now, you know in vacation time when traffic is high, when a lot of people travel north to South or the other way around. And so yeah, there's a lot of that happening. And like you said, we're also seeing similar things. For example, we implemented a QUBO solution for a client for job scheduling for their field service workers, for example. And they got 20% time saving with a QUBO or quantum-inspired computing approach, compared to the classical optimization. And this is really amazing, I think, that we can already see this impact today. Thanks to, you know, describing problems in a way that is closer to nature, I guess. And that is really, when you think about it from a philosophical standpoint, I really find this super interesting in fact, that these things actually work even on classical hardware. And then you know, we can take these algorithms and once we have enough powerful quantum computers with enough qubits, it will just fly. I mean these algorithms are built for quantum computers, right? So anyhow, I love all these examples, and this is just the beginning and we will see more and more, right? I had another question for you regarding the education of the future quantum workforce if you will. Because I know, like you said, you also were part of the Azure Quantum Developer Workshops. In particular, the last one, you were kind of a host and were running the whole show. And by the way, they were really awesome. And I loved hearing all the announcements but also seeing the examples. Like you said with Jupiter notebooks, it's so easy right? It's so approachable for everyone, and it's fantastic to see that. But my question was around, since you work a lot on the education of the future quantum workforce, what is a good way for our audience to get started? Where should they go in order to get started with Azure Quantum?
Anita: Yes. So that's a great question, and there are varying answers depending on who you ask. Of course, we have comprehensive documentation for the Azure Quantum service available. We also have a selection of [Microsoft] Learn modules, which are kind of more walkthrough style, step-by-step. Everything from how to create your first Azure Quantum workspace all the way through to implementing quantum algorithms or optimization algorithms and things like optimization problems even. My personal vote, outside of those resources, is this fantastic book which is written by Sarah Kaiser, who you had on your show previously I understand, and Chris Granade. And this is just an incredible resource. It's designed to be a ‘NOT textbook.’ As you can see, it's relatively skinny insofar as textbooks go. But it's meant to be accessible as possible, as accessible as possible. For people who haven't got PHDs in quantum information science or you know related subjects. It's meant to really easily introduce people from software development backgrounds in particular, to quantum computing with Python and Q#. And there's also this wonderful Q# and quantum computing community that we've kind of been engaging with on Discord. So, if you're curious to learn more but you're not sure where to start, or if you want to see if you can contribute, or if you have an idea for a project but you have no idea where to start, this is really a really great place to look.
Rene: Alright. Thank you so much Anita. I can just say the same thing, what you just mentioned about Sarah [Kaiser's] and Chris Granade’s book. It's incredible and finally out! So, folks go and if you have not pre-ordered it, go out and order it now. It's definitely a really great starting point as well. Well, we're already at the end of the show. Thank you so much Anita for joining us today and sharing your insights and all the new updates and things happening in the Azure Quantum world. It's very much appreciated, thank you so much.
Anita: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Rene: It was a pleasure. And thanks everyone for joining us for another episode of Qubites, your bite sized pieces of quantum computing. Watch our blog and follow our social media channels to hear all about the next episodes of season three. Take care and see you soon. Bye, bye!