November 2, 2021

Cambridge quantum firm Riverlane hires ex-White House scientist

Jake Taylor's move is a signal that the advances in quantum computing will now come from startups rather than "big science"

Maija Palmer

3 min read

Jake Taylor

The quantum talent battle just kicked up another notch as UK quantum software company Riverlane announces today it has hired a former White House expert.

Jake Taylor has been made chief science officer. Taylor was the assistant director for quantum information science at the White House from 2017 to 2020, leading the creation of the US National Quantum Initiative, bipartisan legislation aimed at advancing quantum technology in the country.

Taylor is the latest in a steady stream of scientists joining quantum startups in the past year. Valerii Vinokur joined Switzerland’s Terra Quantum from the Argonne National Laboratory in March while Jon Martinis, who built Google’s first computer to achieve quantum supremacy, left the tech giant to join Silicon Quantum Computing, in Australia. 

Quantum computing is starting to come of age

“It has become apparent, particularly in the last year, that quantum computing is starting to come of age. There is a broad and critical transition from running quantum devices as physics experiments to running them as engineered solutions that actually work,” Taylor tells Sifted.

Taylor says that quantum computing has moved past the stage where a “big science” approach, funded by national governments, will produce the best results. Particle physics might still depend on big state projects like Cern’s Large Hadron Collider, but in quantum computing it's time for scientists to roll their sleeves up and launch multiple attempts to commercialise the technology with the backing of private investors, he says.

“We need to try out different things, and use the innovation ecosystem to test, learn and build machines. That's the sort of most effective path to their implementation. I very much appreciate the big science approach, but this pathway is much more powerful,” Taylor tells Sifted.

Riverlane is not building a quantum computer themself, but an operating system that would work across different types of quantum computers.

Error correction — one of the biggest hurdles for the quantum sector — will be a key focus for Taylor and his team at Riverlane. Quantum bits are extremely susceptible to “noise” — such as stray magnetic fields or material defects — and these can be hard to correct on machines that have a small number of qubits. Given that the biggest machines still have fewer than 100 qubits, error correction will be essential to put machines to practical work.

If you want to make a commercial case for quantum computing, you have to break through [the error correction] barrier

“Errors really limit the scope of how far quantum can get beyond classical supercomputers. If you really want to make a commercial case for quantum computing, you have to break through that barrier,” Taylor says.

Taylor believes the industry will reach this stage in five years.

Riverlane’s operating system can work across all the different types of quantum computer, from superconducting qubits to trapped ions and neutral atoms. Taylor says future quantum computers are actually likely to combine all different types of quantum physics, in much the same way that different types of classical processors are used for different functions, such as logic, memory and communications.

Qubits based on photons, for example, are naturally suited to communications, while trapped ions and neutral atoms have long coherence times well-suited to memory functions.