How are we going to scale-up quantum computing so that it can do something useful? Right now this question is driving research and engineering teams across the world. Their focus is overwhelmingly on hardware: designing qubits with lower error rates.

Last week at Silicon Valley’s Churchill Club IBM’s director of research, Arvind Krishna, was asked a question: “For quantum, which is the tougher problem to solve? Getting the hardware right or building software that works?”

Dr Krishna responded: “It’s a bit of both, but getting the hardware right is probably more critical. Because if the hardware’s not right, the software ain’t gonna help you.”

At Q-CTRL we bring something extra to the table. While the hardware engineers are working to build better physical systems, we are producing firmware that can drive down error rates on existing - and future - platforms. Even better, our techniques can relax the demands on the poor, overworked hardware engineers in a virtuous cycle.

That means Q-CTRL’s solutions are bringing the era of useful quantum technology closer.

At that Churchill Club meeting Dr Krishna said that in five years “quantum advantage” will be a reality, raising the question: what is the difference between quantum supremacy and quantum advantage?

In June last year, New Scientist reported that Google was confident it would deliver a 49-qubit system by the end of 2017 that would allow it to reach “quantum supremacy”. IBM also said it was close to reaching this milestone.

Soon after IBM simulated a 56-qubit processor using a classical computer, pushing the boundaries of what is needed to display quantum supremacy, the tipping point at which a quantum system provably solves some problem, any problem, outside the reach of classical algorithms.

But should we care about this? Does quantum supremacy matter?

For starters, it will mark an astounding scientific demonstration in the field of quantum computer science.

That said there is further subtlety to explore. At the start of the year, predicting 2018 the year of quantum supremacy, Science magazine said “a demonstration of ‘quantum supremacy’ would prove that the devices can do things that conventional computers cannot. But it will be years before quantum computers have enough power and reliability to achieve some of the much-hyped practical applications of such machines.”

Q-CTRL’s aim is not only help teams right away, but to reduce the time of this interregnum, between quantum supremacy (whenever it comes) and quantum advantage, when our machines begin solving practical problems through real-world applications.

Q-CTRL founder and CEO, Professor Michael Biercuk, said that Q-CTRL’s approach is all about helping address the problem of utility.

“Even the most optimistic projections for the size and complexity of quantum computers able to solve problems of practical utility remain out of reach for today’s devices. Q-CTRL enables teams to extract more performance from their quantum hardware, accelerating the pathway to useful systems.”

Late last year Professor John Preskill from Caltech introduced the concept of NISQ: Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum technology.

Professor Preskill wrote: “Although we probably won’t be able to use full-blown quantum error correction to protect NISQ-era devices from noise, we should design near-term quantum algorithms with noise resilience in mind. Clever design of noise-resilient algorithms may extend the computational power of NISQ devices.”

This is exactly what Q-CTRL is doing now: building clever noise-suppressing firmware to extend your system’s computational power. Our new features will even let you build noise resistance into your algorithmic design. And all of this comes well before “full-blown” quantum error correction is ever needed.

Back to the Churchill Club, IBM’s Dr Krishna, said that in five years there will be “widespread commercial use of quantum computers”. We’re excited by this projection and are working to help all of our customers take control of their quantum future.