Quantum Computing: A Collaborative Venture Into The Future

Interviewee: Prineha Narang
Assistant Professor at Harvard University and Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Aliro Quantum
Interviewer: Mark Bloomberg
Of Counsel, Zuber Lawler




[Mark] Hi, I’m Mark Bloomberg. I am a counsel at Zuber, Lawler and a member of the editorial board of Dead Cat Live Cat and today we are privileged to have with us Dr. Prineha Narang, who is an assistant professor at Harvard University and Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Aliro Quantum. And she’s going to tell us about some of the exciting new developments in the field of quantum computing today. So welcome, Dr. Narang and thank you for agreeing to speak to us today. I’ll just go to the first question, so when did you first become interested in quantum technology?

[Dr. Narang] I first became interested in this area as a graduate student, I was a graduate student now some time ago at Caltech. And at the time, folks who are thinking about quantum technologies, we’re primarily thinking about it more from an abstract and a slightly more fundamental science standpoint, this is before things like the devices that IBM made available, became popular. This is before this large influx of startups in the space came about. And during the graduate work I did you know, there were two things that are still very relevant in the area of confirmation science, one of them is how do we think about predicting various types of matter molecules? And how do we actually contrast the power of formally and also practically power of classical devices versus quantum devices? So, you know, a lot of what I do, did back then, and continue to work on is thinking about using various types of computational architectures making the most high fidelity predictions of materials and molecules. And, you know, that’s one of the biggest use cases of quantum computing. So it’s come a long ways from, you know, initially where the conversations were very focused on, can we formally show that there will be an advantage today in various companies talking about a practical quantum advantage. The other thing that I worked on that remains relevant in quantum technologies is the theory of quantum photonics, quantum optics. It’s a lot of my thesis was focused on that. And that is an area that’s relevant for photonic quantum technologies. It’s also relevant for applications where we’re thinking of clustering various quantum devices, and I’m going to tell you more about that later in this conversation.

[Mark] Okay, great. Well, um, I know that you’re a professor, assistant professor at Harvard. What are some of the exciting quantum technology developments that are taking place in academia today?

[Dr. Narang] One of the, you know, biggest ones has been new types of quantum computing platforms. So you know, superconducting and trap time, of course, entered the realm of commercial applications. But there are other types of qubit modalities that are being developed in academia, collateral based things that are based on solid state qubits. That’s where we do a lot of our work. And some of these are a little bit further behind where superconducting and trapped ion systems are today, but could offer advantages that the existing platform still. The other area that we work in that you know, is particularly relevant is how do we build quantum repeaters. And these are small quantum devices that get incorporated into a network. These are what will make a scalable quantum network truly a reality. And so what my group works on the Narang lab at Harvard is very, very focused on you know, designing third generation quantum repeaters, these are ones that would be intrinsically or corrected, or quantum repeaters that can be part of a fault tolerant quantum network. So it’s the one that spans say the entire country.

[Mark] Yeah. What do you believe be some of the first commercial applications that we’re going to see with quantum computing technology?

[Dr. Narang] I think the biggest one, and I’ve written about this in WIRED and other places is very, very likely going to be prediction of new molecules and materials. And this is exciting, because you know, we need to think about new catalysts. We need to think about greener catalysts, greener chemistry, when you just think about better, more energy efficient materials. This is something that is on everyone’s mind, both in technology and also in policy and this is Quantum computing will have a really big impact if we could say, find a better, more efficient way to do Habarbash catalysis. So it’s quite a concrete example.

[Mark] When you expect that we’ll start to see some of these applications become available?

[Dr. Narang] That’s an excellent question. A lot of what quantum devices offer us today is a glimpse of what will be eventual big calculations we can run. So you know, ultimately, some of these molecules and materials are very complex, and require much larger, more complex quantum devices than we have today. So you know, even a 53 qubit system is not going to be a good representation of some of these strongly correlated molecular systems that were interested in the ones that I mentioned for catalysis. But there’s a pathway, you know, there various inflection points that people refer to. So you know, when we’re at a certain error corrected, threshold, or maybe we get to a point with good enough gates, but in the, you know, a few thousand cubic regime, and that’s where we can start to see, you know, something that really outperforms what you can do on the biggest, baddest classical computer. In fact, comparing classical computation power, so these more, you know, niche architectures, GPU based also. So the recent AI chips that are coming online, and comparing those with quantum devices, like those benchmarks that that’s a field unto itself, like, how do you make this an apples to apples comparison? And when can you say one has outperformed a classical computation?

[Mark] When you decided to start Aliro, what were some of the goals for the company?

[Dr. Narang] Oh, gosh. So this was all well before the pandemic, and there were students who were working with me, postdoctoral scholars working with me. And, you know, we started to we filed our first couple of patents in this space. They were handled by Harvard’s office of technology development, and the same person who was handling this, you know, set of patents and advising us on it said, Hey, there’s this physical sciences accelerator grant, you know, it’s not much, you know, a couple 100k. But you guys should apply, I think your chances will be good. And, you know, it’s a one pager with a short pitch. And at the time, I was a very junior faculty, I am on the brink of being across that senior faculty thresholds. And I thought to myself, yeah, this sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it, you know, and we pull that together, gave a short presentation. And what I didn’t realize in the presentation is that there were few different VCs in the audience that were actually part of the selection committee. And shortly after this pitch, I guess it wasn’t the worst talk of my life, people, you know, said, Hey, you know, so and so was at your presentation, and they wondered if you would be willing to come pitch their partners. And I’ve never done that before, students and postdocs who worked with me had certainly never done that before. But we showed up with five slides and said, here’s our idea. Here’s what we want to do. And so the you know, folks there as well, you want to start a company based on this. And I said, Well, we haven’t really thought about it. But that doesn’t sound so bad. I guess we’ll do it. So here we are, fast forward a few years. And we’re about 20 people and growing very rapidly.

[Mark] Well, that’s very exciting, what technology is a little sort of working on right now.

[Dr. Narang] Our focus has very heavily been on clustered quantum devices. So if I have various types of quantum devices, can I pull them together to have the opportunity to really do these big calculations, right. So there’s one pathway that involves the hardware folks making a bigger, more powerful quantum computer, there’s another pathway that involves connecting these devices. Now, if I take two quantum devices, and I connect them over classical network, right, so device A and device B, I don’t immediately end up with A plus B, because ultimately, if I’m going over classical network, these are independent quantum devices. But if I go over a quantum network, now situation is quite different. And that really got us to, you know where we are today thinking about quantum networking and thinking about the applications of quantum networking, both in computing and also separately just in communication. And our focus has been on you know, abstracting just enough away from the hardware so that we can actually come up with a full stack here, including something that allows us to, you know, leverage hybrid devices. So what I mean by that is if somebody puts a superconducting in a trapped ion system together, the trapped ion system might act essentially, as a memory in such an architecture, say, in a fancy quantum data center somewhere to make this whole thing go to make the synchronization happen, have a general control plane that sits on top, those are all problems that you would expect to solve in software. This is how they were solved in the classical networking space. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

[Mark] VWell, as soon as you’re talking about networking, there’s lots of different components, both hardware and software, is there a lot of collaboration between different companies on the different parts of these networks? That you’re thinking about putting together?

[Dr. Narang] Absolutely, so in fact, we have hardware calibration, some that are really at the component level, some that are at the system level, some that are the quantum device level. And I think that’s actually been very, very important to me, I can’t release the name publicly, but we’re working with a utility company to actually show one of these networks combined, combining pieces from a couple of different hardware vendors. So it’s, it’s been very exciting to, you know, see a forward looking utility company be so engaged in such a niche in technology.

[Mark] What are some of the sort of the key commercial benefits that will result from these quantum networks, once they’re put together?

[Dr. Narang] You know, the biggest one is getting us to scale with quantum devices faster than anticipated. So all of the promises in computing that, you know, we’ve been hearing about talking about in optimization problems, and finance and materials, molecules, predictions, all of that relies on devices that are larger than what we have today. And clustering quantum devices via a small scale network is our best and fastest and perhaps even most flexible path to get there. So that’s a major important commercial application. Of course, there are other applications of secure quantum networks that have nothing to do with computing, but have more to do with applications in a secure transmission of information, national security implications.

[Mark] This is all like way more complicated your basic, like laptop computer, who do you think would be the major customers for these sorts of products? And at least at the start.

[Dr. Narang] You know, some of the folks we’ve engaged with, there’s a lot of interest from the enterprise standpoint. I think the that’s one of the first, you know, adopters that we’ve seen for these technologies, people who want to use these interfaces want access to the software that maximally leverages these devices, without themselves having to, you know, do, say, a synchronization problem themselves. Some of the other customers that we’ve engaged with quite extensively are in the government, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, especially, you know, the Air Force has been very forward looking in embracing quantum technologies, and they’ve, you know, publicly announced a variety of programs.

[Mark] I mean, I know that this is you’re talking about how still developing industry where would, you know, just sort of looking to the looking glass, where, where do you think things will be in five to 10 years?

[Dr. Narang] I think in five years, we will be talking about what have already been the first places if quantum computing exceeding classical devices, I think we, you know, it’ll go from which one do you think it’ll be to? This is the one it has been? Which one do you think will be next type of discussion. I think also in five years, we will see the first few entanglement generating and using networks starting to come online, they won’t be particularly impressive rates. They won’t be particularly, you know, long distances, perhaps they might still be metropolitan area, depending on where the progress is with quantum repeater commercialization. But I think we’ll see that maybe in the next five to 10 years.

[Mark] Okay, we’re sort of increasingly being in like a global sort of situation. But what countries do you think are really the countries where quantum computing is going to really take off first?

[Dr. Narang] There’s been a lot of investment across the world, certainly in Europe and, you know, places like Netherlands it has a very strong core networking effort. Folks in Germany are investing a lot. There’s also been a lot of investment in the UK. So I think I think folks are doing pretty well here in the US the National quantum initiative, signed into law, as well as some of the other efforts now from the current administration have been really, really helpful and pushing the technology forward. Of course, you know, every other day, we hear announcements in Asia. So I don’t know, if there’s a single country, that would be you know, winning the quantum race as it were. But there’s a lot of excitement across the board. And fact, in academia, in particular, we have a lot of collaborations with folks in you know, in Europe, we’ve collaborated with testbeds there. So I think there’s more opportunity for collaborative development of facilities technologies rather than competitive development.

[Mark] Okay, it’s just sort of a wrap up kind of kind of question. How would you personally see success in this industry?

[Dr. Narang] I think the, you know, important and philosophically, deep question. I think the point where we can say, hey, here’s an outcome from quantum formation science, quantum technologies that I can explain in simple terms to my grandparents, and they can tangibly say, oh, cool, I use something that benefits from that, right. So it could be an awesome new material, maybe I can tell them, hey, this one into the car you just got, or, you know, Hey, there’s this catalysis saying getting them maybe not directly interested in catalysis. But they’re interested in reading the cleanest air and drinking the cleanest water. I think if that level of impact can be directly attributed to something in quantum technology, I think that would be a big success.

[Mark] Okay, well, Dr. Narang, thank you so much for taking the time to take explain these exciting new developments in this in this field. And thank you very much.

[Dr. Narang] Thank you.

Prineha Narang - Guest

Assistant Professor at Harvard University and Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Aliro Quantum

Prineha Narang is an Assistant Professor at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. Prior to joining the faculty, Prineha came to Harvard as a Ziff Fellow and worked as a Research Scholar in Condensed Matter Theory at the MIT Department of Physics. She received an M.S. and Ph.D. in Applied Physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Prineha is the CTO and co-founder of a Boston-based VC-backed startup, Aliro Quantum, and working towards commercialization of quantum technologies. Aliro recently launched a series of products critical to the development of future quantum networks and scalable quantum information processing. Prineha’s work has been recognized by many awards and special designations, including an NSF CAREER Award in 2020, being named a Moore Inventor Fellow by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for pioneering innovations in quantum science and technology, CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a Top Innovator by MIT Tech Review (MIT TR35), and a Young Scientist by the World Economic Forum in 2018. In 2017, she was named by Forbes Magazine on their “30under30” list for her work in quantum engineering. Prineha is also a part of DOE-led NQI Quantum Science Center and NSF-backed efforts in quantum network science, both announced in 2020. NarangLab’s research at Harvard focuses on how quantum systems behave, particularly away from equilibrium, and how we can harness these effects. By creating predictive theoretical and computational approaches to study dynamics, decoherence and correlations in matter, NarangLab’s work would enable technologies that are inherently more powerful than their classical counterparts ranging from scalable quantum information processing to ultra-high efficiency optoelectronic and energy conversion systems. Outside of science, she is an avid triathlete and runner.

Mark Bloomberg - Host

Of Counsel, Zuber Lawler

A former rocket scientist, Mark has over 35 years of patent litigation experience. He is focused on both traditional and emerging technologies, including quantum computing and AI. He boasts a sensational record at trial, having won an eight-month bench trial verdict on behalf of an international consumer products company for $925 million in damages. That said, he has most often represented clients on the defense side, including a defense of a computer company resulting in a settlement with a reported worth of $1.6 billion to the client. Mark is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, with two engineering degrees from MIT. He is a member of the U.S. Patent Bar.

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