Podcast with Julian van Velzen, CTIO & Head of Capgemini’s Quantum Lab

My guest today is Julian van Velzen, CTIO & Head of Capgemini’s Quantum Lab. Julian and I spoke about which technologies are over-hyped and under-hyped, customers that were helped by Capgemini, his predictions for 2022 and much more.

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Yuval Boger (Classiq): Hello, Julian. Thanks for joining me today.

Julian van Velzen (CapGemini): My pleasure and great to be here.

Yuval: So, who are you, and what do you do?

Julian: Right. So, my name is Julian van Velzen. I work for Capgemini. Most of all, I’m just a quantum nerd. I’m just very intrigued by this amazing technology but within my role, I am the CTIO for quantum technologies and I lead the quantum division with 40 people throughout the Capgemini group.

Yuval: And you’ve got a new group now, right? Quite a few consultants, I believe?

Julian: Right. So, we have a new initiative to make sure that Capgemini will be on time to the market and to help our clients to become more quantum ready. We are already active in three areas: communications and networking, quantum sensors, and computing. But now I have the pleasure to lead this group that will make sure that we’ll prepare ourselves and our clients for this thrilling quantum adventure.

Yuval: Congratulations. So where do you think clients are with regards to quantum? Do you feel that most of the time you have to educate them on what’s going on and what the risks and opportunities are? Do you think the clients are ready to experiment? Do you think they’re moving into production? Where do clients stand in your experience on that spectrum?

Julian: So, it’s absolutely early. So, for most of the clients, it will be 5 to 10 years or even more out there before there’s any scaling or productizing of any solutions. I think there is a big variation in where clients are. Some of them have a specialized team of quantum physicists; they produce scientific publications, they’ve built new algorithms with very low level, algorithmic design. But I think the majority of them are still trying to figure out ‘how do we kickstart our quantum journey’. And that involves a whole bunch of things. It’s not just developing new algorithms. It’s figuring out who are your quantum champions? Who, within my company, is working on this? What could be possible use cases? How do I go from some use cases you can find online, to something more tangible where you actually start building something?

The majority of them are starting to look into this. Only a few years ago, the majority of them had never heard of it. They had no team, no commitments, whatsoever. So, I think, a lot of them are moving forward and are taking the first steps now.

Yuval: When a client wants to take the first steps, do you feel that they want to build internal expertise and keep the knowledge in-house, or do they just want to completely outsource it and do a proof of concept that a company like Capgemini does? Where do they stand on that spectrum?

Julian: So, I think that the number one and two and three priorities maybe are to build competencies and to build knowledge, right? So, I don’t think it makes too much sense to outsource everything. What it does make sense to outsource is getting some help, because it’s not easy to get started in this area. It can really kickstart your journey if you have someone that knows how to map algorithms, or how to map a problem to a quantum algorithm, or it already has some access to a network and some hardware vendors. Because if you have to start this up alone, it may take many years before you have an idea about how the technology is developing and if it’s developing so quickly, you will always be running behind the curve.

Yuval: So, they go to Capgemini to use your help, with your prior experience in working with customers to identify use cases and in your experience to say “oh, you should try this environment or this vendor” and so on. Is that accurate?

Julian: Absolutely. Right, in some cases it’s more about figuring out what use cases there are and how to prepare for them. In other cases, you can already start working on them. So you can try out some algorithms, see how they work and in some cases, improve the algorithms. Also, of course, sometimes you can get insights from quantum algorithms, and improve your classical solutions using all kinds of quantum-inspired solutions, and there may already be a small benefit as well.

Yuval: To what extent are customers focused on the hardware vendors in the arms race? Oh, I’ve got 30 Qubits, I’ve got 50 Qubits, I’ve got 70 Qubits but next year I’ll have 107 Qubits. How much are customers focused on that?

Julian: It’s easy to go with the hype and follow the new, latest trends, with more qubits throughout the mix. It always sounds good. It’s essential of course to realize that there are so many more metrics that are important to follow. So, I think, many of our clients are watching this space and are exploring who to partner with and what kind of hardware strategic partnerships should be made.

I think the purpose of this is to build relations, learn, experiment, and to have access to a network. I think if you are really advanced and you are already developing algorithms, at that point it will become really important to have some actual hardware, because you can increase the quality of your algorithm in such a way that it maps specifically to a certain hardware. So, I think the first value is just to get access to a network and build strategic partnerships; and the second, more technical benefit is to build hardware-specific algorithms.

Yuval: And allow me to explore this point on the strategic relationships. Is it more important for a company to secure a relationship with a hardware vendor, say Honeywell, or with the cloud vendor, like a Microsoft or Amazon that may have multiple quantum computers on their cloud? Which one are you recommending to your customers that they pursue?

Julian: So, I think it depends on the purpose. So, it’s easy to experiment with AWS, Braket or Microsoft Quantum, with various types of hardware and software? So, I think quantum-inspired or annealing kind of algorithms are quite big, prominent on these platforms. I think if you want to experiment on a deeper level and really build hardware-specific algorithms, it makes more sense to partner with either IBM or Rigetti or Honeywell or any other, because they have this hardware available.

Yuval: And I didn’t mention IBM, just not to confuse the question, because IBM obviously makes both hardware as well as allow cloud services. So, I was purposely choosing hardware vendors only and cloud vendors. Is there a particular customer story that you’re able to share perhaps on the quantum computing side, someone that you work with and what were you able to do together?

Julian: Right. We work with many clients in financial services. For one of those clients, a typical use case is portfolio optimization? I think that’s what many clients are working on. They come with the idea that, for them, it is also really to build momentum within their own team. They want to have a ‘lighthouse’ project that will help them pave the way, to see what kind of talent they would need, what they would need to start doing to get more quantum ready, what business units to connect to. So, this was a project that I was personally involved in over the past few years.

It was really awesome to see that — you just start doing something, pick some problem champions in your group, find some eager people to work on this, have a clear vision of what you want to develop, and get your hands dirty with Qiskit or whatever. You can get so much more insight on what this technology would mean, and it helps you to create this new way of thinking of how quantum technologies may disrupt many big parts of the system, even though the problems that you’re working on are still very small.

Yuval: So, these problems are small, but the algorithms are roughly the same and I guess customers are expecting that with better hardware, newer hardware, they will be able to run larger and larger problems until the problems become truly useful. When do you think that will happen? When would a financial services customer, doing portfolio optimization, be able to run a meaningful portfolio beyond what they do on the classical computing side?

Julian: So, this is always a very tricky question to answer, of course? I think it’s important to be very realistic about the fact that the real value of quantum is still far out there, right? It’s large scale, broad quantum advantage, where quantum would actually do something useful. Probably, 5 to 10 years away, or even further, or it may even never happen. That being said, I think it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ moment. So, there will be small, very specific advantages of quantum algorithms. It’s quite likely that this will maybe first in chemistry or similar situations, and then maybe finance will be one of first sectors as well. At this point, it will be something very specific and then every year we will see a bigger and broader advantage of these computers. We’ve really only talked about quantum computing; there’s of course, many opportunities as well in quantum sensors and quantum networks, which may actually be more mature than quantum computers are at this point.

Yuval: When you look at your team, I think you mentioned maybe 20, 30 people. How are they roughly divided between computing, communications and sensors or security?

Julian: Yeah. So, we have a big security branch as well. It’s not really my team though, so that’s a different group of people. I think sensing is a little bit more of a niche software, right? I think it has a huge potential for specific clients, in particularly in all kinds of intelligence industry applications, but it’s considered for direct reasons a little bit more as a niche.

I think quantum networks are definitely very interesting. So, at Capgemini we have quite a strong brand in Capgemini Engineering. Roughly 50,000 people are working on telco-related use cases and all kinds of engineering problems. We do a lot of things with quantum networks as well. I think this is something that is a little bit overlooked with larger companies at this point. Quantum computing …… everyone talks about quantum computing and it’s maybe even a little bit over-hyped, but the other two areas are equally interesting. Then of course, for security, migrating to safer encryption is definitely something which I would recommend to all of our clients. All companies should start working on this today, and we already have a large team to help there as well.

Yuval: You are in a really excellent position in the industry. I mean, you work with a lot of clients, you work with a lot of vendors, you are part of a fantastic organization. So, I think you’re super qualified to answer my prediction question. What do you expect to happen in 2022? If you don’t know, then no one does!

Julian: And I certainly don’t know! Well, there are many roadmaps out there, right? There is IBM and Google. Both have stated they will have a million qubit machines in 2030, and some of the smaller players have stated that they will have even fault-tolerant larger systems in 2025 — probably pretty optimistic, but we’ll see. I do think that we’ll get a quantum advantage pretty soon, like maybe in two years or so, but it will be very specific, very small. So, I think this will be one of the big next events to watch. Another milestone to watch. Are there some true error-corrected systems, even if it’s just for a couple of Qubits?

I think another trend that we will see is that it’s really technology focused still. I mean, we’ll talk about qubit systems and then error correction, and then it’s kind of like we have a hammer and we’re still looking for a nail. I think this will also turn around. So, it will be much more about — what will be the business impact of these systems? What if you’re an airplane manufacturer and you can simulate a large part of your systems in the quantum computer and reduce your time in a wind tunnel by 20%? What if you can improve the success rate of phase three trials by 20%? What would that change? Would that change your compute landscape? Probably all your business models, your support IT and everything around it.

So, I think that the sooner we come to quantum technology maturity, the more relevant this will be. So, if this is already in 2022, I hope so. I think the pace is really picking up. It’s remarkable, what we have seen in the past couple years, what has been developed, the increased awareness and the hopefully possible applications; the hardware is developing rapidly, the software is getting better, right? So, for certain algorithms, you would need a fraction of the amount of Qubits that we thought you would need a few years ago. Yeah, so let’s see. I’m very eager to learn what we will get in 2022.

Yuval: So, if I gave you a magic wand and you could control the quantum industry for the next year, what would you have us work on? You know, we are awaiting your commands, Julian. What do you want us to work on for the next 12 months?

Julian: Right. So, I think that quantum computing is a very promising, but maybe a little bit over-hyped. I think sensing and post-quantum crypto is under hyped. So, I think that it’s not just the industry where we could work on, but all companies should be more aware of these technologies. What I’m personally, and Capgemini as well, very interested in is other possibilities for quantum technologies, like for sustainable development and building new kinds of technology breakthroughs that will help in reducing our carbon footprint. I think there are some amazing opportunities, from industrial capitalists to computational fluid dynamics-related things, or other types of product design and energy production that could leverage the amazing power of quantum computing. So, I really think that this could be one of the most important areas where we could work on and where we could leverage quantum computers.

Yuval: And even when you think about problems like the traveling salesperson/ route optimization that doesn’t impact on the generation of energy, but could potentially reduce the usage of energy?

Julian: Absolutely. Yeah, and these latest NLP models, right? So, for example, GPT-3, I think, that uses the same energy as a small city? So, one thing I guess, is to have quantum peers help in getting the technologies that we’d need to become more sustainable. But in some way, quantum technologies can also improve operations, like the traveling salesmen, or even reduce the energy dependency for large models and large machine learning.

Yuval: Excellent. So, as we get close to the end of our conversation. What do you think is holding back the quantum revolution? What are the key concerns that you’re hearing from your customers?

Julian: So, one of the key areas is that it’s a new way of thinking. It’s just when we moved from single computing to parallel computing, we had to think about new ways to parallelize our workloads and all kinds of data tools came from it. We haven’t had to adapt to this new way of exponential thinking. Like what are really the problems that if I have a bunch more compute power; what would I do with it? So, I think a big part of it is our imagination.

Of course, that translates into a whole number of very tangible things, Talent is definitely a limiting factor. We need people at the interface of physics, mathematics, and AI. We need people that have much of this knowledge, but very clear domain knowledge as well. You know, if we talk about finance or things like portfolio optimization, we have to figure out people that know exactly how these problems work. What are the constraints? What are the optimization functions? What are the nonlinearities? How do these problems look and feel? Having all these different skills and knowledge in one person, of course, is very hard to find. So, skills definitely are another thing.

Yuval: How can people get in touch with you, to learn more about the work that you’re doing, and that Capgemini is doing?

Julian: So, everyone can always send me an email. My email is julian.van.velzen@capgemini.com or just @JulianVanVelzen at LinkedIn. I’ll be very happy to have further discussions on this topic.

Yuval: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Julian: Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun.

Originally published at https://www.classiq.io.




Yuval Boger (M.Sc. Physics), a.k.a. Qubit Guy, is the CMO of Classiq, provider of a software platform that helps design previously-impossible quantum circuits

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Yuval Boger

Yuval Boger

Yuval Boger (M.Sc. Physics), a.k.a. Qubit Guy, is the CMO of Classiq, provider of a software platform that helps design previously-impossible quantum circuits

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