Quantum Personality of The Year 2020 – Nominee: Itamar Sivan

Itamar Sivan (Quantum Machines)

Itamar Sivan, CEO of Israeli quantum startup Quantum Machines, is the second nominee of the ‘Quantum Personality of the Year 2020’.

He has co-founded his company in 2018, just after having created WISe – the Weizmann Institute Students Entrepreneurship Club – in 2015.

Itamar graduated a MSc in Physics from the famous French ‘École Normale Supérieure’ then got his PhD in Condensed Matter and Materials Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Here is the interview of Itamar with both personal and business questions he kindly accepted to answer.

Itamar, could you resume when/why you created Quantum Machines?

There is a big difference between quantum and classical processors, beyond entanglement and superposition. Unlike with classical CPUs that are already embedded with logic, with QPUs, logic is sent-in via electromagnetic pulses. To enable this, and especially as the underlying quantum tech progresses, immense effort goes into repurposing general test equipment, programming FPGAs, synching all the boxes, etc.

As quantum physicists ourselves, this became a major bottleneck for us and to solve it, my co-founders and I created QM in 2018. With our quantum orchestration platform for quantum control, we now allow the scientists to sit back, plug-in, and run the wildest quantum experiment they’ve been dreaming of, with no effort.

Our hardware and software platform translates the algorithm into the orchestra of pulses and does the classical processing in the background while managing the control flow of the algorithm.

When you look at the rearview mirror of the last 5 years, what are your feelings about the quantum industry ?

I think it has been a pretty exciting time and that we have made huge leaps in the quantum field over the past half decade as an industry, and not only with regards to qubits.

Perhaps as important as the actual qubit count, is having the proper infrastructure in place to maximize our qubits and the industry’s capabilities in that domain have grown immensely over the past five years with the emergence of company’s focused on this aspect of the quantum ecosystem.

Itamar Sivan (Quantum Machines)
Itamar Sivan (Quantum Machines)

How do you feel the competitive landscape in your quantum domain?

We feel good within this landscape since the other companies either produce general-purpose test equipment or repurpose it to address quantum research, yet none are 100% focused on the needs of quantum researchers, and on offering control systems designed for quantum research from scratch.

Many physicists have experienced spending months and years in the lab trying to repurpose general test equipment. That’s why we developed the most advanced orchestration capabilities system that anyone could use right out of the box.

Our quantum control platform has little in common with test equipment since it was tailor-made for quantum from the get-go, to enable extremely complex experiments.

In fact, it’s an entirely new paradigm for the control of quantum processors. The OPX, our hardware, is a custom pulse processor with a real-time programming language (QUA) that allows describing algorithms in “human-speak”.

What is your best quantum achievement during this year?

Our system has already been deployed with quite a few customers, on every type of qubit platform. Research teams are coding their quantum systems with QUA on superconducting qubits, trapped ions, trapped atoms, NV centers, silicone qubits, topological qubits, mechanical resonators, etc.

We work with many leading companies, academic institutions, and government labs across the world and provide them with the entire quantum orchestration platform stack. I see the incredible pace at which quantum researchers are adopting our technology and leaving their old test equipment behind as a great testimony to the fact that Quantum Machines is truly providing something unique, that is fundamentally different from all other available technologies.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 3 years?

We aim to work and grow together with the leaders of the field.

In fact, QM already works with many of them today. We can already support any type of quantum processor, but to deploy to the cloud you need a complex, well-orchestrated control infrastructure that can run advanced algorithms. Our goal is for the quantum orchestration platform to become the leading cloud infrastructure for quantum computing.

Some people speak about a “quantum bubble”. From your point of view, is it real and does it impact your business?

This term is mentioned occasionally, along with phrases such as “quantum winter”.

The fact is, even though the world went through one of the most challenging years in recent decades, the field is only warming up. None of the multinationals are gearing down, on the contrary, everyone is gearing up, going faster.

At the same time, governments around the globe are putting more and more funding into the field of quantum computing. From my perspective, practical quantum computing is not a question of “will it happen?”, but rather of “when will it happen?

At QM we’re working hard to ensure this happens as quickly as possible, both in terms of advancing the control technology and the algorithms it can run, and in terms of building the first quantum cloud infrastructure.

To you, what will be the next ‘quantum big thing’ in 2021?

Well, the most frequently discussed goal is the scale-up.

However, getting there will require making sure the ecosystem supporting quantum computers is up to the task. Essentially, this means optimizing the interface between classical and quantum computers, enhancing our quantum algorithms, improving our coding languages vis-à-vis quantum computers, and more.

So, while many headlines from the past year focused on qubit counts and quantum supremacy, I expect in 2021 the attention regarding quantum computers to shift from tracking solely the number of qubits to actual metrics concerning the effectiveness of quantum processors.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

My son Ari, without a doubt.

Parenthood changes everything and opens your eyes to a completely new perspective on the world.

If you could rewind your professional life 10 years back, what would you like to change?

Looking back at my professional journey, everything I have done has led me to Quantum Machines.

From my first academic degrees on quantum information, to living and studying abroad, to my involvement in the Weizmann Institute’s entrepreneurship program, my entire journey has been leading me toward establishing Quantum Machines.

I am grateful for this journey and wouldn’t change a thing, although I wouldn’t say no to a few more vacations along the way. 🙂

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Both pro and personal.

Well, I’m a workaholic, used to working around the clock. My willingness to work hard and get into the depth of each and every project I undertake can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in making progress to get to the next step that you forget to take a break to recharge.

One of my strengths that I find particularly useful is the ability to mediate between the practical details of research and development and the holistic vision of the company, the market, and the industry. I can see the “big picture” from several perspectives, while also making sure all the details within it work in unison to make it happen.

Your most hard learned lesson in business ?

You can’t do everything alone, and the biggest key to success is working with exceptional people. I think this is the single most important and hard-learned lesson in business. No matter how far you aim to get, your vision and its potential for success is only as good as the people joining you for the journey. Great people bring great ideas, shine a new light on important topics, and push the entire company forward.

Your bedtime book currently?

I’m currently re-reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Highly recommended.

Tell us about your hobbies

I enjoy rock climbing, it recharges me with energy, builds strength and focus. When I was studying in France, I often went climbing there. Also, having coffee and chocolate with my family – perhaps not something one would usually imagine as a hobby, but these are definitely the moments I enjoy and cherish the most.

Say out any of your favorite quotes

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda.

Which are your three magic lamp genie wishes?

  1. Scaled-up, practical quantum computer.
  2. No more pandemics in the world, starting with Covid-19 magically disappearing.
  3. For all QM staff (myself included): no matter how hard they work, may each day magically expand and give them several hours of guaranteed fun time with their family.