To do that, Aliro is developing relationships with makers of cloud-available quantum computers to be able to simulate their systems. Quantum computers under development today use a variety of types of qubits: superconductors, trapped ions, photons, and more. Even among those using the same basic qubit, there are big differences.
“These computers have a lot of idiosyncrasies,” says Aliro CEO Jim Ricotta. “They’re noisy; they have different types of noise; they have different types of connectivity” among their qubits, among other characteristics.
These idiosyncrasies will mean some systems are better for certain workloads than others, and Aliro’s tools will help pick the one that fits the customer’s needs best, he says.
Considering that quantum computers are not yet demonstrably superior to classical computers, it might seem a bit premature to launch a quantum software company. But Aliro’s founders and backers disagree. “I think there’s a lot of signs that things are going to happen fairly rapidly in the next year or two,” says Ricotta.
Historically, people have been focused on some of the big things that quantum computers can do that classical computers can’t, such as factoring the product of large prime numbers to break encryption. However, problems like that require thousands more qubits than today’s technologies can control. But other problems—particularly those that already involve quantum mechanics, such as modeling chemical structures—are within reach. Aliro, and indeed other quantum computing startups, see a near-term opportunity in making it easy to offload these problems onto emerging cloud-accessible quantum computers as if they were just another type of hardware accelerator.
Ricotta expects the industry to reach a point in a few years’ time “where you can use the quantum computing of today or of next year and get some value in what you’re doing now.”
Alira is hardly the only company that thinks the time of useful quantum computing is nearly here. There are other quantum software startups, such as Strangeworks, QC Ware, and Zapata. But others see a long road ahead that may lead nowhere.