- AWS had been absent from quantum computing investment and R&D to-date
- This week, AWS launched its new AWS Braket storefront to offer third-party quantum computing hardware solutions
- AWS appears to be “auditioning” D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti to decide where to invest
- I predict that AWS will monitor third-party quantum computing intellectual property success through its new Braket storefront to guide its future quantum computing investments
Six of the eight largest public cloud providers worldwide–Alibaba, Baidu, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Tencent–have been investing heavily in quantum computing research and development (R&D). AWS, by far the largest cloud provider, had been completely absent from the quantum computing discussion until this week. What happened and why?
The holy grail for cloud providers is to find a hardware solution that accelerates machine learning and artificial intelligence by orders of magnitude. There are two ways to improve machine learning at scale: build specialized architectures using today’s design tools or find a completely different path. Quantum computing is everyone’s big bet for the completely different path.
AWS has invested a lot in machine learning and AI. But innovation in AI is mostly dependent on algorithms and architecture. AI and deep learning acceleration research based on today’s state-of-the-art does not require fundamentally new hardware. It’s mostly a software and solutions architecture story.
Rather than designing new hardware, AWS is leveraging decades of existing chip design and manufacturing best practices and intellectual property development. For example, AWS designed both its own processor and its own inferencing chip to get better economics in providing Alexa voice recognition and natural language response inferencing services. AWS announced this week that it has already launched its first ‘Inferentia’ inferencing chip in a new public cloud instance type and that it will soon deploy its second-generation ‘Graviton’ Arm-based processor in more new public cloud instance types.
Quantum computing is very different, though. There are no production-grade patents, no standard building blocks, no standard tools, no tried and true techniques, no best practices. To generate quantum computing intellectual property, AWS would need to engage in the gross inefficiencies of basic scientific research, like the other clouds.
So, AWS is doing what it does best: providing a storefront for quantum computing hardware vendors to demonstrate their R&D investments and progress in quantum computing hardware design. AWS Braket standardizes and manages a unified hardware-independent (and therefore hardware vendor independent) quantum computing software development front-end, which is something AWS does have experience with.
For the most part, quantum computing hype is far ahead of reality. Quantum computers may be available to experiment with over the internet and through cloud services like AWS Braket. But they are still R&D projects for the hardware manufacturers, the software framework developers and (most importantly) for software developers. And software developers still need to be well-versed in quantum physics to use any of the quantum computing hardware available.
AWS states, “With Amazon Braket, customers can assess the present and future capabilities of a variety of different quantum technologies that initially include quantum annealing from D-Wave, ion trap devices from IonQ, and superconducting chips from Rigetti, with more to be added in the coming months.” [The italic emphasis is mine.]
Amazon measures all third-party activity in its online retail operations. Measuring industry reaction to each of the third-party quantum computing hardware solutions it offers behind its software development frameworks will be no different.
At some point in the future, I believe AWS will invest in one or more of the quantum computing hardware solutions that get the most traction through this new storefront. This strategy will enable AWS to efficiently invest in winning intellectual property as it emerges, without having to experience all of the inefficiencies involved in directly funding its own internal basic scientific research. It’s an enviably pragmatic strategy.
The author is an employee of Liftr Insights. The author and Liftr Insights may, from time to time, engage in business transactions involving the companies and/or the products mentioned in this post. The author has not made an investment in any company mentioned in this post. The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of any entity with which the author may be affiliated.