The machine seems to come from the future. It looks like an inverted composite piece made of gold-plated wire and metal rods attached to the ceiling. The trays are arranged in descending order of size, down to the smallest at eye level and with a slide. This is where the brain of this quantum computer is located, which must be cooled to a level close to absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius).
Startup Alice & Bob chose this industrial hotel in southern Paris to make sure it had the right electrical capabilities and pressure conditions for its monster. Far from our desktops, it doesn’t work with traditional bits either (0 or 1). Here, we enter a new realm, the world of atomic physics, made up of qubits capable of processing several states simultaneously (0 and 1 simultaneously).
This quantum superposition, combined with other puzzling principles of infinitesimal, yields startling results. Some complex problems that usually require hours and days of supercomputer computations can be resolved in seconds.
“This technology has the potential to transform many sectors: financial, chemicals, transportation… Excited by Teo Peronen, co-founder and CEO of Alice & Bob. The uses are so numerous.” Whether it’s improving the order of selling shares in a stock portfolio, predicting how a protein will turn out in order to produce new drugs, or decongesting traffic by offering motorists alternative routes, every application can change our lives. Even armies could use it to secure their communications or, conversely, break the protection systems of foreign powers and gain access to their secrets.
The implication of this is that the consulting firm BCG estimates between 450 and 850 billion dollars in economic gains brought by this innovation by 2040. Every country wants its share of the pie, but it is still necessary to work out the means. And for each of his plans: $790 million for Russia, $1.2 billion for the United States and up to $10 billion for China. Once again, these huge amounts of money do not take into account the massive financial means of private digital companies such as, Transatlantic, Google, IBM, Amazon, Baidu and Alibaba in the Middle Kingdom.
France does not intend to miss this revolution. Neil Abrouge, Coordinator of the French Quantum Strategy, explains that as part of the investments for the future, we allocate 1 billion euros to which 800 million are added from the European Union and industrial groups. This computer is the holy grail of everyone running after.”
But before it can be reached, many technical obstacles still have to be overcome. One in particular is problematic. These strange machines still generate a lot of bugs that need to be corrected. Worse, the higher its power, the larger the explosive faults. Whoever manages to make them disappear will take a serious choice in the competition. But this progress is not expected before 2029. “In this marathon, we all start on an equal footing, including against Google or IBM, explains Théau Peronnin. The important thing is to attract the best talent from the field of physics and France is good thanks to the quality of its researchers and laboratories.”
All of these talents operate on different types of qubits. At least five roads are being explored around the world without anyone knowing yet which one will lead to success. Jean-Francois Popeye, Director of BCG, explains, “Maybe even the sixth method will change everything and will eventually be the right method. In the meantime, France can count on the most promising young shoots in four of the five research areas.”
For some, and Normaliens for others, the founders of C12, Alice & Bob or Quandela have come out of the Grandes Ecoles and have very strong ties to the CNRS or CEA. With the support of the Institute of Optics at the University of Paris-Saclay, Pascal served as one of the Popes of quantum physics, Alain Aspect, and was awarded the prestigious Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr medals. The project was initiated with the support of the Ministry of the Armed Forces through its Definvest Fund.
Daphni, Elaia, 360 Capital, Quantonation or Bpifrance… they all put their hands in their pockets to support these four Musketeers who have managed to raise between 10 and 27 million euros each in recent months. “We now have the means to create the first French Gafa but we still have a long way to go,” Judge Georges-Olivier Raymond, founder of Pascal.
Another plus point, the country can count on its industrial groups providing the main components of computers: the science of cooling to ensure they are cooled with liquid air, the ultra-compact conductors of Radiall, the control of electronics for Teledyne … “The ecosystem is there and we have everything to succeed, the consultant stresses Olivier Ezrati, the question is whether, in the end, the United States will survive thanks to its vast financial resources.
Percy put Quantum in the strategic sectors to watch. Because Google has $169 billion in cash, Amazon (96 billion) or IBM (6.6 billion) can buy any competitor. And they are not alone. Newcomers, who are very well funded, also have the means to do their shopping. Startups in the sector raised $1.7 billion last year, up 140% year-over-year according to McKinsey.
Several US companies working in this field have already entered the stock market in recent months with stratospheric valuations: $2.5 billion for IonQ and $800 million for Rigetti. Amounts that are not commensurate with its ridiculous sales volume: the first made $2.1 million in 2021, while the second recorded $8.2 million. Both rent their computing power through the computing cloud (cloud) to companies or organizations to run tests or experiment with programming.
Everyone should practice and gain experience on these new machines. To work, they must rely on new software and quantum algorithms that have not yet been developed. “It’s a bit like clinical research,” says Jean-François Boupier, at BCG. “Labs have to search for a vaccine and at the same time build factories to produce it on a large scale, and that requires resources. And we still don’t have this capital in France to change the scale.” Mastering the infinite little things requires a lot of money, with no guarantee of success. This is the beauty of adventure.
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