Computing’s Future Is In Two Places at Once

The capabilities of quantum computing are known, but haven't yet been unleashed. One Canadian start-up is blazing a new trail.

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Xanadu is a Canadian start-up developing a special type of quantum computer based on photonic technology, which is a far more powerful and efficient alternative. Their setup uses laser light to transmit information via optical chips, as opposed to the movement of electrons or ions used by the competition.

Once developed, Xanadu’s computers will be able to perform calculations without the need for the massive, power-hungry cooling systems required by the current crop of quantum computers.

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing makes use of the incredible laws of quantum mechanics to crunch information. While traditional computing uses bits to encode a one or a zero, quantum computing includes qubits, which allow us to make use of the same ones and zeroes but also the superposition therein. A superposition allows a quantum system to be in multiple states at once, i.e. one, zero, or both at the same time.

The development of this technology has exponentially broadened the possibilities of computing. Quantum computers can process vast numbers of calculations simultaneously, allowing for the factoring of enormous numbers far beyond the capability of the computer you’re reading this on.

Applications include diverse areas such as cryptography, finance, weather forecasting, artificial intelligence, and molecular modelling.

Xanadu awarded $4.4 million in government funding

In January, Xanadu was awarded a $4.4 million grant by Sustainable Development Technology Canada. The goal of the funding was two-fold: to accelerate the availability of their cloud-computing platform and the development of their energy-efficient quantum computers.

“Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs are tackling problems across Canada and in every sector,” said Leah Lawrence, President and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, to Newswire.

“I have never been more positive about the future. The quantum hardware technology that Xanadu is building will develop quantum computers with the ability to solve extremely challenging computational problems, completing chemical calculations in minutes — which would otherwise require a million CPUs in a data centre,” she added.

The cloud-based platform includes Xanadu’s two leading software products. The first is PennyLane, which provides programmers, researchers, and enthusiasts across the world access to quantum machine learning software. It can be used in combination with leading deep learning libraries like PyTorch, which houses of pre-written code that helps developers.

The other is Strawberry Fields. Similar to PyTorch, Strawberry Fields uses the coding language, Python. It’s a library of prewritten functions and methods which allows users to incorporate a host of actions or processes into their projects.

The Strawberry Fields library is full-stack, meaning that it caters to both frontend (user-facing elements) and backend (databases etc) technologies. It’s the only full-stack Python library available for use with photonic quantum computers.

Combined, these products offer developers, researchers, and others access to state-of-the-art computational tools with which to create algorithms and develop products for real-world applications.

“We are thrilled by the recognition and support that we are receiving from SDTC for the development of our technology,” said CEO Christian Weedbrook in a press release. “We firmly believe that our unique, photonic-based approach to quantum computing will deliver both valuable insights and tangible environmental benefits for our customers and partners.”

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Barry is a journalist, editor, and marketer for several media outlets including HeadStuff, The Media Editor, and Buttonmasher Magazine. He earned his Master of the Arts in Journalism from Dublin City University in 2017 and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in the media. Barry is passionate about communicating and debating culture, science, and politics and their collective global impact.