UK algorithm startup closes in on quantum advantage

Quantum computing holds a lot of promise. The question is when the hyped and indeed potentially revolutionising technology will begin to deliver on it. According to UK quantum startup Phasecraft, it’s not that far off. The secret? Algorithms that can work on today’s “imperfect” quantum computers, without having to wait for the very tricky hardware to draw level. 

You could forgive the quantum sceptics for their “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. To date, no quantum computer or algorithm has been able to solve any problem of actual significance. However, according to Ashley Montanaro, Phasecraft CEO and University of Bristol professor of quantum computation, the day of quantum advantage could now be merely a couple of years away.

“The goal of Phasecraft is to develop the quantum algorithms and software that will let us really make the most out of today’s quantum computers and the sorts of quantum computers we’re going to have in the next few years, as opposed to the next 10 or 20,” Montanaro tells TNW in an interview. 

Material discovery for energy transition

The ability of quantum computers to leverage quantum bits (qubits) in superposition and entanglement allows them to process vast amounts of information simultaneously. This means they could offer giant leaps in things like factoring large numbers for cryptography, and simulating quantum interactions in chemistry and materials science. 

Phasecraft is focusing its efforts on algorithms that can facilitate the discovery of new materials important for the clean energy transition. Rather than relying on experimental discovery which can take decades, quantum algorithms can simulate interactions on the quantum level, predicting how materials will behave under various conditions. 

“Because the algorithms on the standard computer are not accurate enough, you would need to test them out in the lab,” Montanaro says. “[Quantum computing] could reduce the time of testing out a new material from months to minutes, because you’re doing it within the computer rather than in the lab with the whole experimental project.”

Through what it calls a “radical reimagining” of existing algorithms, the London- and Bristol-based startup says it has already developed a software pipeline which delivers an improvement of 1,000,000x or more in comparison. 

Additionally, it will be able to run on what Phasecraft says are “within touching distance” of today’s so-called Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum, or NISQ, devices. To that effect, Phasecraft has partnered with powerhouses Google, IBM, and Rigetti, who are investing large sums into quantum hardware development. It is currently the only quantum software developer to work with all three. 

Deep tech VC backing

Phasecraft was founded by Professors Ashley Montanaro, CEO, the aptly named CTO Toby Cubitt, and director John Morton in 2019, and currently employs 20 people. Spun out of the University of Bristol and UCL, the company just raised £13mn in Series A funding, led by Silicon Valley deep tech VC Playground Global.

Each of the founders have been at the forefront of quantum research for the past couple of decades, and the company has already published 17 scientific papers. 

The Phasecraft team posing together on a lawn