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AWS moves into quantum computing services with Braket

Amazon joined IBM, Google and Microsoft in the emerging quantum computing market this week with the Amazon Braket managed service along with a new quantum computing research center.

Amazon debuted a preview version of its quantum computing services this week, along with a new quantum computing research center and lab where AWS cloud users can work with quantum experts to identify practical, short-term applications.

The new AWS quantum computing managed service, called Amazon Braket, is aimed initially at scientists, researchers and developers, giving them access to quantum systems provided by IonQ, D-Wave and Rigetti.

Amazon's quantum computing services news comes less than a month after Microsoft disclosed it is developing a chip capable of running quantum software. Microsoft also previewed a version of its Azure Quantum Service and struck partnerships with IonQ and Honeywell to help deliver the Azure Quantum Service.

In November, IBM said its Qiskit QC development framework supports IonQ's ion trap technology, used by IonQ and Alpine Quantum Technologies.

Google recently claimed it was the first quantum vendor to achieve quantum supremacy -- the ability to solve complex problems that classical systems either can't solve or would take them an extremely long time to solve. Company officials said it represented an important milestone.

In that particular instance, Google's Sycamore processor solved a difficult problem in just 200 seconds -- a problem that would take a classical computer 10,000 years to solve. The claim was met with a healthy amount of skepticism by some competitors and other more objective sources as well. Most said they would reserve judgement on the results until they could take a closer look at the methodology involved.

Cloud services move quantum computing forward

Peter Chapman, CEO and president of IonQ, doesn't foresee any conflicts with his respective agreements with rivals Microsoft and AWS. AWS jumping into the fray with Microsoft and IBM will help push quantum computing closer to the limelight and make users more aware of the technology's possibilities, he said.

"There's no question AWS's announcements give greater visibility to what's going on with quantum computing," Chapman said. "Over the near term they are looking at hybrid solutions, meaning they will mix quantum and classical algorithms making [quantum development software] easier to work with," he said.

There's no question AWS's announcements will give greater visibility to what's going on with quantum computing.
Peter ChapmanCEO and president, IonQ

Microsoft and AWS are at different stages of development, making it difficult to gauge which company has advantages over the other. But what Chapman does like about AWS right now is the set of APIs that allows a developer's application to run across the different quantum architectures of IonQ (ion trap), D-Wave (quantum annealing) and Rigetti (superconducting chips).

"At the end of the day it's not how many qubits your system has," Chapman said. "If your application doesn't run on everyone's hardware, users will be disappointed. That's what is most important."

Another analyst agreed that the sooner quantum algorithms can be melded with classical algorithms to produce something useful in an existing corporate IT environment, the faster quantum computing will be accepted.

"If you have to be a quantum expert to produce anything meaningful, then whatever you do produce stays in the labs," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, Inc. "Once you integrate it with the classical world and can use it as an adjunct for what you are doing right now, that's when [quantum technology] grows like crazy."

Microsoft's Quantum Development Kit, which the company open sourced earlier this year, also allows developers to create applications that operate across a range of different quantum architectures. Like AWS, Microsoft plans to combine quantum and classical algorithms to produce applications and services aimed at the scientific markets and ones that work on existing servers.

One advantage AWS and Microsoft provide for smaller quantum computing companies like IonQ, according to Chapman, is not just access to their mammoth user bases, but support for things like billing.

"If customers want to run something on our computers, they can just go to their dashboard and charge it to their AWS account," Chapman said. "They don't need to set up an account with us. We also don't have to spend tons of time on the sales side convincing Fortune 1000 users to make us an approved vendor. Between the two of them [Microsoft and AWS], they have the whole world signed up as approved vendors," he said.

The mission of the AWS Center for Quantum Computing will be to solve longer-term technical problems using quantum computers. Company officials said they have users ready to begin experimenting with the newly minted Amazon Braket but did not identify any users by name.

The closest they came was a prepared statement by Charles Toups, vice president and general manager of Boeing's Disruptive Computing and Networks group. The company is investigating how quantum computing, sensing and networking technologies can enhance Boeing products and services for its customers, according to the statement.

"Quantum engineering is starting to make more meaningful progress and users are now asking for ways to experiment and explore the technology's potential," said Charlie Bell, senior vice president with AWS's Utility Computing Services group.

AWS's assumption going forward is quantum computing will be a cloud-first technology, which will be the way AWS will provide its users with their first quantum experience via Amazon Braket and the Quantum Solutions Lab.

Corporate and third-party developers can create their own customized algorithms with Braket, which gives them the option of executing either low-level quantum circuits or fully-managed hybrid algorithms. This makes it easier to choose between software simulators and whatever quantum hardware they select.

The AWS Center for Quantum Computing is based at Caltech, which has long invested in both experimental and theoretical quantum science and technology.

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