EXCLUSIVE: A (Virtual) Tour of the New Google Quantum AI Campus

I had the privilege of being the lone tech journalist from the Philippines to be invited to a live online virtual tour of the new Google Quantum AI campus in Santa Barbara, California last week. No less than Dr. Erik Lucero, Lead Engineer at Google Quantum AI led the virtual tour and was kind enough to answer some questions from members of the media present at the event.

Aimed at building a useful, error-corrected quantum computer, Google has stepped on the gas pedal to build solutions for some of the planet’s most pressing problems to include sustainable energy and reduced emissions to feed the world’s ever-growing population and to unlock new scientific discoveries like a more helpful Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A picture containing indoor, floor, warehouse, plaza Description automatically generated

The search engine’s new Quantum AI campus includes its first quantum data center, quantum hardware research laboratories, and its own quantum processor chip fabrication facilities.

Google’s machine learning journey began some twenty (20) years ago when they introduced spellchecking in Search. This led to the deep learning revolution a decade ago producing advancement in neural nets — the leading approach to modern AI. Looking forward ten (10) years from now, Dr. Lucero said that many of the greatest global challenges — from climate change to handling the next pandemic — will demand a new kind of computing.

A picture containing indoor, floor, ceiling Description automatically generated

Now, technology companies saw the need to build better batteries to lighten the load on the power grid or to create a fertilizer to feed the world without increasing global carbon emissions, or to create more targeted medicines to stop the next pandemic even before it starts — some use-cases where we need to understand and design molecules better, something that classical computers cannot simply simulate.

In such cases, quantum computers are needed. With the use of quantum bits (qubits) which can be entangled in a complex superposition of states, quantum computers can naturally mirror the complexity of molecules in the real world. With an error-corrected quantum computer, researchers will be able to simulate how molecules behave and interact so that they can test and invent new chemical processes and new materials before investing in costly real-life prototypes. These new computing capabilities will help to accelerate the discovery of better batteries, energy-efficient fertilizers, and targeted medicines, as well as improved optimization, new AI architectures, and more.

A picture containing dark Description automatically generated

Google embarks on a journey in building 1,000,000 physical qubits that will seamlessly work inside a room-sized error-corrected quantum computer — a huge leap from today’s modestly-sized systems of fewer than 100 qubits. As part of this ambitious undertaking, Google will build the world’s first “quantum transistor” (two error-corrected “logical qubits” performing quantum operations together) and then figure out how hundreds, or even thousands, of them to form the error-corrected quantum computer in the years to come. The current generation of cryostats that hold the company’s quantum processors is about the size of three (03) household refrigerators.

As an advocate of free and open source software, I had to ask Dr. Lucero about the role of open source in things that they are doing at present.

“We have a rich open source offering; we really support that culture. We developed a language called Cirq, which allows anyone to start coding, design quantum circuits to run on our hardware, and to run our simulators. In addition to that, we have a rich offering of libraries that are very specific to particular tasks that are important in the research perspective. Everything about the hardware level is open source,” according to Dr. Lucero.

Cirq is a Python software library for writing, manipulating, and optimizing quantum circuits, and then running them on quantum computers and quantum simulators. The programming language provides useful abstractions for dealing with today’s noisy intermediate-scale quantum computers, where details of the hardware are vital to achieving state-of-the-art results. Aside from the framework, Dr. Lucero mentioned the likes of libraries OpenFermion and TensorFlow Quantum, both heavily used in their research work.

At present, Dr. Lucero said that they are assembling an awesome team to invent the future of computing at Google’s Quantum AI campus.