Advancing Technology

The Quantum Computer Is About to Change the World. Three Israelis Are Leading the Revolution

The Israeli startup QM is the first company in the world to be building both the hardware and the software that will make it possible to use quantum computers – once they actually are a practical reality

Haaretz • TAGS: Quantum theory, Computers, Physics

Quantum

The Quantum Machines leadership team: Nissim Ofek, Itamar Sivan and Yonatan Cohen. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

In October 2019, Google announced that its quantum computer, Sycamore, had done a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years. “Quantum supremacy,” Google claimed for itself. We now have a quantum computer, it was saying, capable of performing calculations that no regular, “classical” computer is capable of doing in a reasonable time.

Where do you buy a computer like that? You don’t. Google’s Sycamore can’t run Word or Chrome, it can’t even run a nice friendly game of Minesweeper. In fact, Google’s supreme quantum computer doesn’t know how to do anything, other than perform one useless calculation. It resembles the huge computer in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which came up with the calculation of 42, as the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” – although no one knows what the question is.

The question is now being worked on in Tel Aviv, on Derech Hashalom Street. In their generic office in the city’s Nahalat Yitzhak neighborhood, three physicists who received their doctorates at Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science – Nissim Ofek, 46; Yonatan Cohen, 36; and Itamar Sivan, 32 – are developing instruments of control that will tame the quantum monster.

“Ten years ago, when I took a course in quantum computing, it was considered science fiction,” Dr. Sivan, the CEO of their company, Quantum Machines, relates. “The experts said that it wouldn’t happen in our lifetime or may never happen. As a physicist, quantum computing is a dream come true. Almost all our employees are physicists, even those who work as programmers, and most of them approached us. They read about an Israeli company for quantum computing and simply couldn’t restrain themselves. There’s nothing more exciting than to learn for years about Schrödinger’s cat and about all the wild quantum effects, and then to enter a laboratory and actually build Schrödinger’s cat and leverage the theory into a prodigious force of calculation.”

Already in high school, Sivan, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, knew that he was drawn to the mysterious world of elusive particles. “I did honors physics, and in that framework we learned a little quantum mechanics. Without mathematics at that stage, only the ideas of quantum mechanics. My brain took off. The quantinizing of the world, of the space around me, was very tangible. I felt that I understood the quantum world. Afterward I understood that I didn’t understand anything, but that’s not important. It’s preferable to develop an intuition for quantum at an early age – like for a language. Afterward I did military service, but I didn’t forget that magic.

“I was a bureau chief [i.e., military secretary], not the most intellectually challenging job in the army,” he continues, “and I was afraid that when I was discharged, I would be too old. You know, it’s said that all the great mathematicians achieved their breakthroughs before the age of 25. So, in parallel with army service I started undergraduate studies at the Open University. On the day after my discharge, I flew to Paris to continue my studies at the École Normale Supérieure – because there are a few other things that are also worth doing when you’re young, such as living in Paris.”

He met his partners in the project, Nissim Ofek and Yonatan Cohen, at the Weizmann Institute, where they all studied at the Center for Submicron Research, under Prof. Moty Heiblum.

Advancing Technology

The Quantum Computer Is About to Change the World. Three Israelis Are Leading the Revolution

The Israeli startup QM is the first company in the world to be building both the hardware and the software that will make it possible to use quantum computers – once they actually are a practical reality

Haaretz • TAGS: Quantum theory, Computers, Physics

Quantum

The Quantum Machines leadership team: Nissim Ofek, Itamar Sivan and Yonatan Cohen. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

In October 2019, Google announced that its quantum computer, Sycamore, had done a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years. “Quantum supremacy,” Google claimed for itself. We now have a quantum computer, it was saying, capable of performing calculations that no regular, “classical” computer is capable of doing in a reasonable time.

Where do you buy a computer like that? You don’t. Google’s Sycamore can’t run Word or Chrome, it can’t even run a nice friendly game of Minesweeper. In fact, Google’s supreme quantum computer doesn’t know how to do anything, other than perform one useless calculation. It resembles the huge computer in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which came up with the calculation of 42, as the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” – although no one knows what the question is.

The question is now being worked on in Tel Aviv, on Derech Hashalom Street. In their generic office in the city’s Nahalat Yitzhak neighborhood, three physicists who received their doctorates at Rehovot’s Weizmann Institute of Science – Nissim Ofek, 46; Yonatan Cohen, 36; and Itamar Sivan, 32 – are developing instruments of control that will tame the quantum monster.

“Ten years ago, when I took a course in quantum computing, it was considered science fiction,” Dr. Sivan, the CEO of their company, Quantum Machines, relates. “The experts said that it wouldn’t happen in our lifetime or may never happen. As a physicist, quantum computing is a dream come true. Almost all our employees are physicists, even those who work as programmers, and most of them approached us. They read about an Israeli company for quantum computing and simply couldn’t restrain themselves. There’s nothing more exciting than to learn for years about Schrödinger’s cat and about all the wild quantum effects, and then to enter a laboratory and actually build Schrödinger’s cat and leverage the theory into a prodigious force of calculation.”

Already in high school, Sivan, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, knew that he was drawn to the mysterious world of elusive particles. “I did honors physics, and in that framework we learned a little quantum mechanics. Without mathematics at that stage, only the ideas of quantum mechanics. My brain took off. The quantinizing of the world, of the space around me, was very tangible. I felt that I understood the quantum world. Afterward I understood that I didn’t understand anything, but that’s not important. It’s preferable to develop an intuition for quantum at an early age – like for a language. Afterward I did military service, but I didn’t forget that magic.

“I was a bureau chief [i.e., military secretary], not the most intellectually challenging job in the army,” he continues, “and I was afraid that when I was discharged, I would be too old. You know, it’s said that all the great mathematicians achieved their breakthroughs before the age of 25. So, in parallel with army service I started undergraduate studies at the Open University. On the day after my discharge, I flew to Paris to continue my studies at the École Normale Supérieure – because there are a few other things that are also worth doing when you’re young, such as living in Paris.”

He met his partners in the project, Nissim Ofek and Yonatan Cohen, at the Weizmann Institute, where they all studied at the Center for Submicron Research, under Prof. Moty Heiblum.