Quantum computers have a big problem. Or, to be more precise, many incredibly small ones. These futuristic devices promise to revolutionize everything from the financial industry to drug discovery by harnessing the power of quantum uncertainty — instead of using bits like your laptop or phone does, quantum computers use qubits, meaning they’ll be able to perform certain tasks much faster than traditional computers, and perhaps mimics natural processes better.

Tech giants including Google, Microsoft and IBM are racing to build quantum devices, but collectively the field is mired in an era known in the business as “intermediate noise quantum,” or NISQ. Today’s quantum computers are fragile devices that can be thrown off course by the slightest environmental interference: they’re slow, small, and not very accurate, meaning they’re currently useless.

Sabrina Maniscalco hopes to change that. She is the co-founder and CEO Algorithmiq, one of several startups developing software for the noisy quantum computers we have access to today. “Device software and algorithms are key in the short term to uncover and unlock useful industrial applications,” she says.

The company grew out of research at the University of Helsinki, where Maniskalka is a professor of quantum information, computation and logic, after stints in South Africa, Edinburgh and her native Sicily. “It started with us trying to find the best applications for these very noisy early quantum computers,” she says.

They stopped at the problem of “noise”. Algorithmiq is developing ways to counteract the noise that affects quantum computers: It’s not the noise of a fan, but tiny changes in the environment that can force qubits out of a fragile state called superposition. It is this state, which can be approximated as neither 0 nor 1, but both at the same time, that makes quantum computers so powerful, but also so difficult to build.

Algorithmiq discovers sophisticated techniques for modeling and mitigating noise so that early-stage devices can be used for experimentation. First, the company focuses on chemical simulations—a promising potential use case for quantum computers because they mimic the uncertainties of nature. He compares his noise-reduction algorithms by modeling molecules like dichromium, which is simple enough to simulate with modern quantum computers, but complex enough to show the power of these devices. Maniscalco says Algorithmiq, which recently announced a partnership with IBM, plans to apply the same principles to more complex structures in the future, with potential applications that include drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry. “We consider ourselves the first quantum biotech company,” she says.

This article was originally published in the January-February 2023 issue of WIRED UK.


Previous articleJeremy Clarkson has never hidden… who exactly were Amazon and ITV hiring?
Next articleDrag Race fans go wild when Bob the Drag Queen joins Madonna’s tour