Israel joins the quantum computing club

Weizmann institute push runs parallel to government initiatives.

 Conceptual illustration of quantum dots in action. (photo credit: Lars Lüder)
Conceptual illustration of quantum dots in action.
(photo credit: Lars Lüder)

It is not yet the game-changing quantum computer that the world is racing toward, but Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science on Tuesday did join the elite club of those who have built smaller size quantum computers, one of only 30 such machines in the world.

In mid-February, the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development (MAFAT) and the Innovation Authority announced that they will invest around NIS 200 million toward building Israel’s first quantum computer.

“A quantum computation capability will provide the technological infrastructure for an Israeli eco-system that will be a leader in future developments in the security, economic, technological, engineering and scientific arenas,” a statement said at the time.

How is it that Weizmann has succeeded at building such a computer only a month later when the government statement indicated their effort could take years?

Part of the answer is that there are different kinds of quantum computers that have different capacities, but before getting into those details, it is important to recall why quantum computing is viewed as having such massive upside potential.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is seen in Rehovot, Israel. (credit: WEIZMANN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE)The Weizmann Institute of Science is seen in Rehovot, Israel. (credit: WEIZMANN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE)

Quantum computing, once it is fully mature, is expected to revolutionize not only computing speed, but a variety of military strategic and detection issues, as well as having massive economic dimensions and forcing the entire internet to alter its basic encryption baseline.

Experts in the field often say that today’s supercomputers will look like the stone age in comparison to the quantum paradigm shift which will replace them.

Weizmann’s 5-qubit quantum computer is a very big deal on its own, and according to the leader of the project, Professor Roee Ozeri, is a major step toward a 64 qubit quantum computer in the next one to two years.

Such a 64-qubit quantum computer would already far outstretch the computation power of even the most advanced existing classical computers, said Ozeri.

Although “Building a working quantum computer is such a daunting venture that many believe it’s only for tech giants and superpowers, something on a scale beyond Israel’s reach,” Ozeri begs to differ, said a Weizmann statement.

In fact, Ozeri said, “One of the world’s first computers, WEIZAC, was built here in the 1950s, when all Israel had was swamps and camels. Today Israel is a technological empire; there’s no reason we shouldn’t be front-runners in the quantum computing race.”

He said that the current five qubit quantum computer shows that there are “several approaches and different technologies. It is not only size that matters…the fidelity: how well it performs quantum logic operations on your computer,” is crucial.

Next, he said that the quantum computer they announced on Tuesday is “a universal quantum computer – it can implement any quantum algorithm on that computer” and will already be used now “to calculate the behavior of certain solid state systems” for academic research.

Ozeri said that he has been working on quantum computing since 2003, established his own group in 2007 and that focusing finally on building the computer really took off in the last two years.

He explained that building a quantum computer involves a wide range of physics and engineering building blocks and that after around 10 years of developing all of the separate pieces, his team could finally lean into building the machine.

The reason his team will already be able to build a 64-qubit computer in only one to two years is that he has had two teams working separately on the smaller and larger machines and that there is s unique synergy between the teams with multiple payoffs.

At 64-qubits, he said Weizmann would be at a similar level of Google’s quantum supremacy machine which made headlines in October 2019.

Despite Weizmann’s success, Ozeri said that the government’s quantum initiative to build more and also large quantum computers and to invest in a variety of related quantum areas was “still very important. It’s a consolidated effort…to ensure our ability to lead in this area of technology.”