Cambridge Quantum Computing’s entanglements are at the heart of a new technological era
Cambridge Quantum Computing is developing a leadership position in four quantum domains – quantum cybersecurity, quantum chemistry, quantum machine learning and quantum finance.
Founded in 2014, the company was initiated by Ilyas Khan, the founding chairman of The Stephen Hawking Foundation and a fellow at St Edmund’s college.
“I was one of three founders – and the sole original founding investor – of the Accelerate Cambridge programme, which is run from Cambridge Judge Business School,” Ilyas says of the exegesis of one of the world’s key quantum technology companies from its butterfly cocoon. “Cambridge Quantum Computing emerged from the idea that Cambridge could produce a successful deep science company and, when this company was founded in 2014, there were three motivating factors.
“Firstly, the experience at Accelerate Cambridge was very exciting and secondly, the emergence of quantum computing hardware, which had until then been an aspiration.
“Thirdly, Google and IBM were by then involved, and so it shifted from a subject within academia to business in the private sector.”
Indeed, the UK National Quantum Technologies programme had started in 2013, with quantum engineers and technologists meeting the entrepreneurial sector for the first time. The goal – a mere aspiration back then – was to develop products and services which made use of quantum superposition and quantum entanglement. The results are now starting to bear fruit.
“Cambridge Quantum Computing is a result of the success of the National Quantum Technologies programme,” Ilyas notes. “An analogy would be to say that it would not be dissimilar to someone setting up a business to focus on the internet in 1996 or ’97. Early in 2014 the themes were coming together. At that time I thought the business might be viable by 2024, and obviously since then it’s been far faster.”
Indeed, just this year Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) announced a collaboration with Roche to design and implement noisy-intermediate-scale-quantum (NISQ) algorithms for early-stage drug discovery and development. The partnership will employ CQC’s leading quantum chemistry platform, EUMEN, to augment Roche’s Alzheimer’s disease research efforts.
And last week Crown Bioscience, JSR Life Sciences and CQC announced a partnership agreement, with the initial approach being to focus on identifying cancer treatment biomarkers and driving the next generation of bioinformatics.
The upsurge coincides with a move from the Cambridge Union Society building on Bridge Street to Station Road, says Ilyas.
“We outgrew the space at the Cambridge Union and decided to look around last summer – we’ll have between 50 and 60 people there.”
There are other sites, in London, Chessington, San Francisco and Washington DC in the US, and Tokyo.
“The company as a whole has more than 130 people now,” Ilyas says. “We’re very science-heavy, with more than 100 scientists – more than 60 with PhDs – with a very strong business development team, a very strong legal and finance team.
“The quantum sector divides into three areas: quantum technologies, which is quantum clocks and metrology, and we’re not in that. Second is quantum computers – the hardware – and we’re not there either. Third is applications, algorithms and software; we’re very active in that area.”
So what are the possible applications? CQC develops specific products and platforms for quantum chemistry (EUMEN); and t|ket>, an architecture-agnostic quantum software stack and ‘best in class’ compiler which translates machine-independent algorithms into executable circuits, optimising for physical qubit layout.
And with its IronBridge quantum encryption technology, CQC has developed methods to provide current and post-quantum cybersecurity by solving the most fundamental vulnerabilities in cryptographic protocols and procedures.
One thing that is rarely mentioned in the same breath as quantum is autonomous driving – why is that?
“There is no informed consensus on whether machine learning will be capable of having a day-to-day impact on autonomous driving any time soon,” Ilyas replies.
“My view is that some way in the future, however theoretical, machine learning is a very exciting area for the development of quantum computing.
“Machine learning is here and, at Cambridge Quantum Computing, is an area of AI we’ve been most interested in, and without question are a global leader in meaning-aware language processing – so the ability of a computer or device is not just word or speech recognition – as in Alexa, for example – but full-sentence, paragraphs and full conversations.
“There are technical reasons why a quantum computer will ultimately be able to do something a classical computer will not, for example, quantum chemistry is one area where a quantum computer can do something a classical computer will not. The other area is meaning-aware language processing, and I’d say this is an extremely powerful and global area for quantum computing.
“So that’s drug discovery, linguistic processing and cybersecurity from a defensive standpoint.
“It’s difficult to predict when – it could be one or two years, or seven to 10. In other areas the jury is out.”
And any sign of an operating system on the way?
“We’re many years away from an operating system for quantum computers,” Ilyas answers. “There will be operating systems, but at the moment anybody trying to say they’re working on an operating system is like me saying I’m practising living on Mars because one day I want to be there.”
All this is of a fit with an overarching goal – the introduction of quantum computing to as many areas of business and science as possible.
“As we’ve entered 2021,” continues Ilyas, “an increasing number of large global corporations from pharma to banks to logistical to petrochemical are already users of high-performance computers and in 2021 a larger number of corporations are starting to budget for quantum computing for one of two different reasons.
“Either they believe a quantum computer has a credible chance of delivering a result, or they want to experiment for themselves what a quantum computer can do.
“People are on a journey, starting to learn, but some organisations are already on that journey, as Microsoft has been for 20 years, IBM has been for decades, and Google has for ten years. CQC is a member of partnership organisations for all three.”
It looks like a win-win-win situation for Cambridge Quantum Computing.