Podcasts

Podcast with Mikko Mottonen, co-founder and Chief Scientist at IQM

5
January
,
2022

My guest today is Mikko Mottonen, co-founder and Chief Scientist at IQM. Mikko and I talk about custom-built quantum computers, how Nordic values contribute to the success of their company, and much more.

Listen to additional podcasts here

THE FULL TRANSCRIPT IS BELOW

Yuval Boger (CMO, Classiq): Hello, Mikko, and thanks for joining me today.

Mikko Mottonen (co-founder and Chief Scientist, IQM): Great to be here. Thanks, Yuval.

Yuval:           Hello, Mikko, and thanks for joining me today.

Mikko:          Great to be here. Thanks, Yuval.

Yuval:           So who are you and what do you do?

Mikko:          Currently, I'm a co-founder and chief scientist of IQM. That is a quantum computer company in Europe, and I'm also a professor of quantum technology at Aalto University and the state research center of Finland VTT.

Yuval:           And IQM is based in Finland, right?

Mikko:          Yeah. We have our main office here in Espoo, typically we say Helsinki, because people don't necessarily know where Espoo is, but it's just next door to Helsinki. And we also have offices in Munich and Bilbao.

Yuval:           Why Finland? What's the local ecosystem like in Finland that makes it suitable or makes it a good place to build quantum computers?

Mikko:          Since 1965, if I remember correctly, we've had a low-temperature lab here. So we've had this technology to build machines that operate at extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero. And we have been building the superconducting circuits, not me, but other researchers on this campus, since the seventies for example, we have been building SQUIDs that are used nowadays in superconducting qubits. Back then they were not used in qubits, but in magnetometers, for example.

                     So there's been this extremely long tradition of training the low temperature physicists and superconducting circuit engineers, and that has been then recently, or more recently, been directed towards quantum devices and quantum technology. And from this research environment, we spun out IQM about two years ago and it's been a great support for this endeavor, and having enough critical mass, I think it's important in this field.

Yuval:           You build computers based on superconducting qubits, and other companies seem to do the same. Are all superconducting qubits the same? Is there a difference between your approach and other people?

Mikko:          No, not all are the same. Actually, if you go to scientific conferences nowadays, you can hear presentations about many, many different types of superconducting qubits. Of course, the base technology mostly is similar. There's always this Josephson junction or a SQUID that is basically two Josephson junctions. So that's kind of similar, but you can design these circuits in many various ways and designs. So not only that you would have gloves and shoes, which are very different, but you, of course, going to have different brands of shoes, for example, different colors. In a way just to give you an idea how some super qubits can differ a lot from each other, from the principal they operate, and others just deviate little bit on how they're designed.

Yuval:           And it seems that you're proposing a full stack solution, right? That you control everything. Is my understanding correct?

Mikko:          Well, we do deliver. We build, assemble and deliver full stack quantum computers, but that's also what you call a full stack. I think what we don't want to say is that we do absolutely everything ourselves. We want to collaborate with a lot of companies, partly in the hardware, but also a lot in the higher software layers. We want to provide something that people can work with, and allowing different companies, for example, to run their applications on the machines is exactly what we want to do.

Yuval:           Your website mentions that you customize it for a particular customer. So if I were a customer, and let's assume I had enough money to afford a quantum computer, what kind of customization could you do for me? Could you give me more qubits? Could you give me different connectivity? What's the customization like?

Mikko:          At the moment it's very customizable. Of course we do have our standards systems that we are currently delivering to our customers, and if you want exactly similar machine, of course, it's going to be cheaper because it's more efficient for us to make it. But if you want different typology, that's quite easy to make if you want something else that is very different specific to your needs, for example, let's say that you were an electronics manufacturer and you would like to modify the quantum computer to run with your electronics instead of the electronics that we typically use, that could be done. Or if you like some other component of yours to be in there, that sort of customization can also be done.

                     Or what is more is that we have this models where you don't necessarily yet even need to order a quantum computer from us, but you can start to work with us to find out what kind of customized quantum computer is going to be best for your particular problem. And then what we will do is we would actually design the hardware and the software, the algorithm, together potentially with other partners as well for that specific problem. So this is the really full - we call it co-design - customization process that we also currently offer.

Yuval:           So if we go back many, many years, I guess cars were once customized, and perhaps even today I could go to a very high end manufacturer and ask for a customized car, but then cars moved into mass production and became more affordable because they were all the same and they were done on a production line. Do you believe that this method of customization is a short term strategy, or do you expect five years from now to continue delivering customized quantum computers?

Mikko:          In the longer-term term for sure it will turn down. I think it's going to be extremely important now before we have quantum advantage, practical quantum advantage, because we want to squeeze everything out of the hardware and the software to give other companies business advantage by using quantum computers. So at this stage, it is going to be extremely important, and it's also going to be extremely important for those companies to be involved and actually have full access to the system, not only through the cloud, but really have full access. We think that by this way we can speed up the achievement of the quantum advantage.

                     In the longer run you're kind of right. Okay, it's not going to be very cost efficient to always customize a quantum computer. So in the long run, we do see when the quantum error correction takes over, that the need for this customized quantum computers will go down. Most likely in some cases they still persist, but the spectrum of cases that you would use them would go down or reduce.

Yuval:           Can you give me a sense of how many computers you have delivered, then perhaps maybe an example of a customer, even if it's without the name, a customer that was able to achieve something on your computers that they could not achieve on other types or other manufacturers of quantum computers?

Mikko:          Well, we have publicly announced that we won a tender for a quantum computer here in Finland. So we are building a quantum computer through this public tendering process or as a result of that to VTT here, and the timeline for that is such that by the end of the year, we have delivered the first system.

                     It's on schedule as far as the latest public information has been given out. That is still, of course, a machine that we... the researchers at the VTT site will then start seriously using after it's been delivered. So I can't now tell you exactly the benefits that they will obtain, but likely there will be some and then after a few more years, the qubit numbers will go up quite a lot. I think we are expecting more of that to happen.

                     So the company is a bit more than two years old in terms of kicking it off from the seed funding ground, so I think this is already pretty amazing what we've achieved so far.

Yuval:           Absolutely. Your website talks in a couple of places about Nordic values. And since I'm not from the Nordics, could you help me understand what Nordic values are and how they apply to your business?

Mikko:          Well, I would say that equality is a really strong Nordic value. Sometimes I heard that in Sweden, people are very angry because some politicians were saying that Sweden is for Swedes. No, it's not for Swedes, it's for the immigrants. So that sometimes there are some extremes also when it comes to equality. But yeah, this is really strong principle from us that we welcome everybody independent of their personal characteristics to work with us and build the quantum computer for the good of mankind or humankind.

                     Also of course in respecting certain codes of conduct and certain registrations. You're not really thinking about this to maximize the profit, but we are thinking about how to benefit the society in a maximal way. So this is something about the Nordic values and being very clear on what we say and standing behind that word. I think that's the strong principles we have.

Yuval:           You're obviously very connected in the industry and you've been speaking with customers, and you're familiar with many vendors. What would you predict that's going to happen in the quantum industry in the next one or two years?

Mikko:            Certainly more and more machines will be delivered available. We see more companies going public, we see still yet new companies being born, we see larger funding rounds. So I think everything seems to be growing. Also mergers I would say that we can see more and more. Now there have not been so many mergers in the quantum space yet, but I think we start to see those simply also because the numbers are now going up of the different companies and the valuations of the older ones, so then it's possible to merge.

                     I'd say there's going to be a huge amount of action and it's very exciting.

Yuval:           Outside the things that IQM does, what would you like to see other players in the industry, whether big companies or startups or governments, what would you like to see them do to contribute to the success of quantum computing?

Mikko:          Yup, the big companies, I would, those who haven't done it yet,  to assemble these quantum teams inside the companies that have also true deep quantum experts so that these teams then work with companies like IQM to do this co-development and co-design of the quantum processors. I think that's one of the most important things. It's not only about throwing money to buy a quantum computer, but they really need in-house expertise in their companies as well to benefit from this technology in the future.

                     For the governments, I think a very nice approach is this kind of approach where you put in government grants, but at the same time you put even more than half of the investment into purchases and into the company side. So not only to the university, of course that's very important as well to keep the university research at high level, but also to boost locally in those areas also the companies, and to have real deliveries, real purchases of quantum computers, on premise quantum computers. So I think that's going to be now very important.

Yuval:           As we get closer to the end of our conversation. I wanted to ask you, let's assume that there was a hundred qubits computer or a 300 qubit computer that's now available and people can use it either on premise or on the cloud. Do you think that companies have the ability to write software that takes advantage of these hundred qubit computers?

Mikko:          Not many companies I would say. And that's exactly the reason why they should act now before those come on the market, right? Because when they come, it's going to be too late to start learning. Some other company has most likely done it, done the homework before you have if you wake at that point.

Yuval:           Excellent. So Mikko, how can people get in touch with you to learn more about your work?

Mikko:          Well, you can go to our website, meetiqm.com and there is some information there, email addresses. You can, of course, always contact us by email and even visit us. There have been a lot of visitors and some of them have been quite amazed when they see our underground facilities here.

Yuval:           Excellent. So thank you so much for joining me today.

Mikko:          Great. Thank you.

 


My guest today is Mikko Mottonen, co-founder and Chief Scientist at IQM. Mikko and I talk about custom-built quantum computers, how Nordic values contribute to the success of their company, and much more.

Listen to additional podcasts here

THE FULL TRANSCRIPT IS BELOW

Yuval Boger (CMO, Classiq): Hello, Mikko, and thanks for joining me today.

Mikko Mottonen (co-founder and Chief Scientist, IQM): Great to be here. Thanks, Yuval.

Yuval:           Hello, Mikko, and thanks for joining me today.

Mikko:          Great to be here. Thanks, Yuval.

Yuval:           So who are you and what do you do?

Mikko:          Currently, I'm a co-founder and chief scientist of IQM. That is a quantum computer company in Europe, and I'm also a professor of quantum technology at Aalto University and the state research center of Finland VTT.

Yuval:           And IQM is based in Finland, right?

Mikko:          Yeah. We have our main office here in Espoo, typically we say Helsinki, because people don't necessarily know where Espoo is, but it's just next door to Helsinki. And we also have offices in Munich and Bilbao.

Yuval:           Why Finland? What's the local ecosystem like in Finland that makes it suitable or makes it a good place to build quantum computers?

Mikko:          Since 1965, if I remember correctly, we've had a low-temperature lab here. So we've had this technology to build machines that operate at extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero. And we have been building the superconducting circuits, not me, but other researchers on this campus, since the seventies for example, we have been building SQUIDs that are used nowadays in superconducting qubits. Back then they were not used in qubits, but in magnetometers, for example.

                     So there's been this extremely long tradition of training the low temperature physicists and superconducting circuit engineers, and that has been then recently, or more recently, been directed towards quantum devices and quantum technology. And from this research environment, we spun out IQM about two years ago and it's been a great support for this endeavor, and having enough critical mass, I think it's important in this field.

Yuval:           You build computers based on superconducting qubits, and other companies seem to do the same. Are all superconducting qubits the same? Is there a difference between your approach and other people?

Mikko:          No, not all are the same. Actually, if you go to scientific conferences nowadays, you can hear presentations about many, many different types of superconducting qubits. Of course, the base technology mostly is similar. There's always this Josephson junction or a SQUID that is basically two Josephson junctions. So that's kind of similar, but you can design these circuits in many various ways and designs. So not only that you would have gloves and shoes, which are very different, but you, of course, going to have different brands of shoes, for example, different colors. In a way just to give you an idea how some super qubits can differ a lot from each other, from the principal they operate, and others just deviate little bit on how they're designed.

Yuval:           And it seems that you're proposing a full stack solution, right? That you control everything. Is my understanding correct?

Mikko:          Well, we do deliver. We build, assemble and deliver full stack quantum computers, but that's also what you call a full stack. I think what we don't want to say is that we do absolutely everything ourselves. We want to collaborate with a lot of companies, partly in the hardware, but also a lot in the higher software layers. We want to provide something that people can work with, and allowing different companies, for example, to run their applications on the machines is exactly what we want to do.

Yuval:           Your website mentions that you customize it for a particular customer. So if I were a customer, and let's assume I had enough money to afford a quantum computer, what kind of customization could you do for me? Could you give me more qubits? Could you give me different connectivity? What's the customization like?

Mikko:          At the moment it's very customizable. Of course we do have our standards systems that we are currently delivering to our customers, and if you want exactly similar machine, of course, it's going to be cheaper because it's more efficient for us to make it. But if you want different typology, that's quite easy to make if you want something else that is very different specific to your needs, for example, let's say that you were an electronics manufacturer and you would like to modify the quantum computer to run with your electronics instead of the electronics that we typically use, that could be done. Or if you like some other component of yours to be in there, that sort of customization can also be done.

                     Or what is more is that we have this models where you don't necessarily yet even need to order a quantum computer from us, but you can start to work with us to find out what kind of customized quantum computer is going to be best for your particular problem. And then what we will do is we would actually design the hardware and the software, the algorithm, together potentially with other partners as well for that specific problem. So this is the really full - we call it co-design - customization process that we also currently offer.

Yuval:           So if we go back many, many years, I guess cars were once customized, and perhaps even today I could go to a very high end manufacturer and ask for a customized car, but then cars moved into mass production and became more affordable because they were all the same and they were done on a production line. Do you believe that this method of customization is a short term strategy, or do you expect five years from now to continue delivering customized quantum computers?

Mikko:          In the longer-term term for sure it will turn down. I think it's going to be extremely important now before we have quantum advantage, practical quantum advantage, because we want to squeeze everything out of the hardware and the software to give other companies business advantage by using quantum computers. So at this stage, it is going to be extremely important, and it's also going to be extremely important for those companies to be involved and actually have full access to the system, not only through the cloud, but really have full access. We think that by this way we can speed up the achievement of the quantum advantage.

                     In the longer run you're kind of right. Okay, it's not going to be very cost efficient to always customize a quantum computer. So in the long run, we do see when the quantum error correction takes over, that the need for this customized quantum computers will go down. Most likely in some cases they still persist, but the spectrum of cases that you would use them would go down or reduce.

Yuval:           Can you give me a sense of how many computers you have delivered, then perhaps maybe an example of a customer, even if it's without the name, a customer that was able to achieve something on your computers that they could not achieve on other types or other manufacturers of quantum computers?

Mikko:          Well, we have publicly announced that we won a tender for a quantum computer here in Finland. So we are building a quantum computer through this public tendering process or as a result of that to VTT here, and the timeline for that is such that by the end of the year, we have delivered the first system.

                     It's on schedule as far as the latest public information has been given out. That is still, of course, a machine that we... the researchers at the VTT site will then start seriously using after it's been delivered. So I can't now tell you exactly the benefits that they will obtain, but likely there will be some and then after a few more years, the qubit numbers will go up quite a lot. I think we are expecting more of that to happen.

                     So the company is a bit more than two years old in terms of kicking it off from the seed funding ground, so I think this is already pretty amazing what we've achieved so far.

Yuval:           Absolutely. Your website talks in a couple of places about Nordic values. And since I'm not from the Nordics, could you help me understand what Nordic values are and how they apply to your business?

Mikko:          Well, I would say that equality is a really strong Nordic value. Sometimes I heard that in Sweden, people are very angry because some politicians were saying that Sweden is for Swedes. No, it's not for Swedes, it's for the immigrants. So that sometimes there are some extremes also when it comes to equality. But yeah, this is really strong principle from us that we welcome everybody independent of their personal characteristics to work with us and build the quantum computer for the good of mankind or humankind.

                     Also of course in respecting certain codes of conduct and certain registrations. You're not really thinking about this to maximize the profit, but we are thinking about how to benefit the society in a maximal way. So this is something about the Nordic values and being very clear on what we say and standing behind that word. I think that's the strong principles we have.

Yuval:           You're obviously very connected in the industry and you've been speaking with customers, and you're familiar with many vendors. What would you predict that's going to happen in the quantum industry in the next one or two years?

Mikko:            Certainly more and more machines will be delivered available. We see more companies going public, we see still yet new companies being born, we see larger funding rounds. So I think everything seems to be growing. Also mergers I would say that we can see more and more. Now there have not been so many mergers in the quantum space yet, but I think we start to see those simply also because the numbers are now going up of the different companies and the valuations of the older ones, so then it's possible to merge.

                     I'd say there's going to be a huge amount of action and it's very exciting.

Yuval:           Outside the things that IQM does, what would you like to see other players in the industry, whether big companies or startups or governments, what would you like to see them do to contribute to the success of quantum computing?

Mikko:          Yup, the big companies, I would, those who haven't done it yet,  to assemble these quantum teams inside the companies that have also true deep quantum experts so that these teams then work with companies like IQM to do this co-development and co-design of the quantum processors. I think that's one of the most important things. It's not only about throwing money to buy a quantum computer, but they really need in-house expertise in their companies as well to benefit from this technology in the future.

                     For the governments, I think a very nice approach is this kind of approach where you put in government grants, but at the same time you put even more than half of the investment into purchases and into the company side. So not only to the university, of course that's very important as well to keep the university research at high level, but also to boost locally in those areas also the companies, and to have real deliveries, real purchases of quantum computers, on premise quantum computers. So I think that's going to be now very important.

Yuval:           As we get closer to the end of our conversation. I wanted to ask you, let's assume that there was a hundred qubits computer or a 300 qubit computer that's now available and people can use it either on premise or on the cloud. Do you think that companies have the ability to write software that takes advantage of these hundred qubit computers?

Mikko:          Not many companies I would say. And that's exactly the reason why they should act now before those come on the market, right? Because when they come, it's going to be too late to start learning. Some other company has most likely done it, done the homework before you have if you wake at that point.

Yuval:           Excellent. So Mikko, how can people get in touch with you to learn more about your work?

Mikko:          Well, you can go to our website, meetiqm.com and there is some information there, email addresses. You can, of course, always contact us by email and even visit us. There have been a lot of visitors and some of them have been quite amazed when they see our underground facilities here.

Yuval:           Excellent. So thank you so much for joining me today.

Mikko:          Great. Thank you.

 


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