The Head of Amazon’s Quantum Computing Unit Explains Its Master Plan

  • Amazon was relatively quiet about quantum computing until it announced Amazon Braket in 2019.
  • Amazon Web Services has been ramping up its quantum computing partnerships in the past few months.
  • Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Intel have already invested in building their own quantum computers.

Over the last few months, Amazon Web Services has quietly but consistently signed new partnerships around quantum computing, including ones with Israeli universities including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University, among others. 

Along with that, AWS will offer cloud software from Quantum Computing Inc., which helps companies solve business problems using quantum computing, and it recently partnered with BMW to launch a quantum computing challenge to crowdsource automative projects in the field. Those moves show that the market-leading cloud titan is investing heavily in the field that experts believe presents the next great frontier in computing.

But Amazon’s investment comes after years of staying quiet on quantum, even as others like Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and Google raced to get there first. That silence ended in 2019 when AWS announced its quantum computing service, Amazon Braket.

Richard Moulds, general manager of Amazon Braket, says that while the company certainly kept its eye on the potential of quantum computing, it generally preferred to focus on the “here and now.” Braket reflects its belief that the field is now ready for real investment, Moulds said  — and AWS has since worked with companies like Rigetti, IonQ, and D-Wave, and schools like Caltech, to help make it a reality.

“It was the sense that now is the time,” Moulds said. “Different fronts are coming together. We’ve been researching and keeping an eye on this space for many years.”

Quantum computers are still in their early days, but they have the potential to solve complicated problems like finding the cheapest and fastest routes, detecting fraud, drug discovery, and predicting the stock market. Moulds says that while the full potential is years away, customers are asking about it now.

AWS has a three-pronged approach to making that future a reality, Moulds said: building cloud services that allow customers to explore quantum computing, providing a customer support and consulting team, and investing in research to build quantum computing technologies. 

Quantum computing can be a “fragmented experience” because different companies take different approaches to building a quantum computer, which means customers must painstakingly learn different tools, Moulds said. 

Braket isn’t there to showcase a single quantum computer technology, but rather allow customers to experiment with various types in one place. Customers can pick the appropriate quantum hardware to simulate for their tasks and run it on the cloud without ever touching an actual quantum computer.

“It’s way too easy to focus on a single technology,” Moulds said. “No one knows how this industry will play out. No one knows how the industry will evolve.”

AWS wants to eventually build a quantum computer, too. It takes an approach called quantum error correction. In quantum computing, there’s a lot of “noise” that gets in the way of solving problems, so this approach aims to reduce errors.

Robert Liscouski, CEO of Quantum Computing Inc., which has partnered with Amazon, believes that as a “mecca for cloud computing,” AWS is especially well-positioned to do well in this very young market.

“It’s clearly got the know-how, the go-to-market strategy,” Liscouski said. 

Experts, however, say that while Amazon is indeed well-positioned, it’s far too soon to call a winner in the market.  “Today since there are no clear winners in the quantum computing space, customers are still experimenting with quantum algorithms and where they may be best executed on,” said Matt Brisse, research vice president at Gartner.

At the same time, Amazon’s moves in quantum show that it’s willing to invest in closing the gap with those who got an earlier start.

“It’s realized that it’s moving in the direction of reality,” Brian Hopkins, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said. “It’s not reality yet, but they need to stay competitive with Google and Microsoft, which has been there a lot longer than it has.”

Moulds would likely agree with that sentiment.

“This is still very much a research-centric industry,” Moulds said. “This is still a long way away. There’s no shortcut.”

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