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 talk about scalable quantum computing and diversity in the quantum computing field which is very important. And for this I'm very honored to have a special expert guest today, Denise Ruffner. Hi Denise and welcome to the show. How are you today?
Denise - I'm great, thank you for having me on. I'm really excited to be here.
Rene – Awesome! So, first things first. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as it relates to quantum computing or any other topic of course?
Denise – Well, so I'm a biologist, I'm not a quantum scientist and I think for those of you out there that think you have to have a PhD in quantum computing, not necessarily, but worked at IBM for many years and was asked to join the quantum computing group very early and frankly I was a little scared of it because physics wasn't always my favorite subject but I realized I would learn something new every day and I would be challenged and it would be hard and that was something that I really wanted and it just really awakened me and I love it. And so, since IBM I've worked at two other start-up companies and now I'm at an emerging hardware start-up called Atom computing based in northern California, in Berkeley.
Rene – Nice, and you mentioned it, so let's talk about what you're currently doing at Atom computing and what is the benefit of Atom computing's approach compared to other approaches.
Denise – Okay, so that's kind of two questions. So, let's start with the first. So, I'm Chief Business Officer. So, it's my job to build a foundation for the company in terms of making the technology accessible to students or customers or whoever wants to use it. It's very exciting to be able to bring this technology to the world. What this company is, I call it a second-generation quantum computer. So, everybody's familiar with first generation, which is super conducting and trapped ion but there's a whole other group of quantum computing technology that's emerging and it's very exciting. There's a lot of different modalities, again, so it could be a neutral atom which is what Atom computing does. It could be photonics, it could be any number of things but what's exciting about these computers is, you can put a lot of qubits in a very small space and so we feel that these computers will be able to have large number of qubits but not be the size of a building like it might be in other modalities. So, we view this as a longer term, very promising technology.
Rene – Gotcha. So, basically you're using neutral atoms not ions or anything like that as a representation of a qubit and this allows you to have a much smaller form factor, if you will, and you don't have, like you're saying, so basically this will be the enabler from getting out of the quantum computing mainframe area which we're right now, into the more of, well we won't have a personal computing quantum computer but much smaller, at least. Awesome.
Denise – Yeah, my view is that you know, how are you going to put this big thing in a data centre. So, my view is that, I think, the second-generation technologies lend themselves better to making a smaller device that will ultimately go behind a firewall in a data centre. Desktop is a little bit of a stretch but I'm gonna say, behind a firewall.
Denise – So, the ecosystem is very healthy. I think we're all encouraged that a number of quantum computing companies have gone public, which means that kind of the world is starting to accept that this technology is here. Where probably five years ago they were like, ‘oh that's a dream you know, like, go away but now it's real and there's a lot of people out there that are very excited about it, and I think we're going to see a couple more companies go public and that's exciting. There is a big hype factor and I think that's something that we all have to worry about is, what's real and what's not. But when I look at quantum computing and kind of use cases, people are developing use cases, they're very small now and they don't give you advantage over a classical computer, but I believe in the next couple years, as we get better and better on, what I'm calling first generation computers, I think that we will see one or two examples. Maybe like the google quantum supremacy paper, we may see one or two examples of an application that beats classical computing on a quantum computer. But will it, kind of, be an overall rule or an overall thing that this quantum always exceeds classical, no. So, I think over the next couple years we're going to see some examples that are positive and then we're going to see the emergence of these second-generation technologies which I think will be really interesting because the qubit numbers will go way up and that in itself is going to make the application of quantum computing more powerful. And hopefully at that point in time, we're going to see a little more of quantum advantage or beating classical computers. So, even though I hate people that say it's three to five years away, I hate them. I'm almost gonna say that in the next couple years, we'll see a little but I think it's probably a three year mark that we're going to start really seeing a lot.
Rene – Yeah, well that's actually pretty soon if we if you look at the whole quantum timeline and yeah I mean, I keep on saying, ‘hey, this is the decade basically. It's like where a lot of breakthroughs will happen and trying to paint it a little bit more optimistic. But you're right, we got to be careful not over hyping things and not promising too much because in other fields we have seen that all the time, you know, one of my topics is also spatial computing meaning AR VR, the whole topic and for example, VR was quite overhyped in the beginning and also AR, now we're seeing this little bounce back and it's getting more into a healthy kind of business state. Anyway, let's talk about one very important topic about also diversity and quantum computing field and how we can improve that. How we can make it more diverse, right, since I know you are also leading the women in quantum initiative and in general of course, you are an advocate for the diversity in the quantum computing field and so how can we make the field more inclusive and why is it so important to actually have diverse backgrounds for creating the best solutions.
Denise - So I think diversities of opinion is always very important in problem solving. So I love when people have different backgrounds like I'm a biologist, I'm working with a physicist or whatever it is, I think these different point of views always bring interesting collaborative discussions. And often when you look at the website of a quantum computing company, you see that it's all men of the same race. And there's nothing wrong with that, but I feel that there is a benefit from having different points of view. And so starting at IBM, it was something that IBM realized that there weren't enough women in the industry and as I progressed in the industry, I kept on seeing over and over, that there weren't a lot of women at the companies, as well as, a lot of women reached out to me and said, help me, how do I have a career, how do I get a job at a quantum computing company, how do I do this. And so that was the genesis for women in quantum, is to give people a network and help them build a foundation so they can become participants in this industry and feel comfortable and feel like they have a network of people to rely on, that will support them.
Rene – Yeah, well that's awesome that you started that, you saw these issues and started the initiative and trying to improve that, I think that it helps actually quite a lot, because if I’m looking at some of the conferences, I think some things are changing already. But of course, there's still a long way to go and it's just like you're saying, you know, sometimes you see a panel and it's just like the same guys you know.
Denise – So Francis Collins, who's the head of the National Institute of Health, two years ago, coined a term called a Manel, like panel of men, Manel and I love that and he came out and said I will not be on any panels anymore and I love that and what I am seeing is, people are starting to be sensitive to the fact that there are manels or they're mostly men and they're trying to include diversity and I think, that's just so important and I think there are a lot of really accomplished women out there that just don't have a platform and so it's great to be able to see them get a platform.
Rene - Yeah and it's so important, right, also we see it already in the AI field, right, where we see certain issues arising only after certain AI models were developed. No one actually had a diverse background; it was all the same kind of a people and then you end up with the biased models and you end up with all these issues that arise from it. Now things are getting a little bit better, still a long way to go but I hope in quantum computing this will, well it's the beginning, again right, of course quantum computing is a field that’s ongoing for many many years but still I think it will get a little bit ahead, not something like we saw in the AI field, right, that we have actually now, it's growing and it's really accelerating that we see a growth in diversity also in a quantum computing field. So, the work you're doing is super important, thank you for all of what you're doing there.
Denise - You know what, it's really fun it's a great thing and anybody out there that wants to participate, look up women in quantum on the internet and it's free and we welcome anyone.
Rene – Awesome, and we will put a link into the show notes but unfortunately, we're already at the end here of the show but thank you so much Denise for joining us today and sharing your insights. That is very much appreciated.
Denise - My pleasure and thank you, it's been fun.
Rene - All right and thanks everyone for joining us for yet another episodes of QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. Watch our blog, follow our social media channels, to hear all about the next episodes and of course you can always watch the previous episodes at our website. Take care and see you soon, bye!