Toronto's Creative Destruction Lab Is Training a Generation of Quantum Computing Experts

This month, the first cohort of 40 entrepreneurs begin to work out of the Quantum Machine Learning program at the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), an accelerator based out of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Although there are currently few practical uses for quantum-based technologies, quantum computing has the potential to be much more powerful than computing that is performed on existing “classical hardware.” The CDL is hoping to establish Toronto and Canada as a hub for this kind of research before it really takes off and becomes profitable.

“If there's going to be a moment in time when universal quantum computing becomes a reality and if that moment in time is going to be three to seven years from now” asks Associate Director Daniel Mulet, as an explanation for why they created this cutting edge stream at the CDL, “what can we do today to lay the foundation for a quantum-ready economy?”

As once described by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a video that went viral last year, “classical” computing relies on simple binary systems of “1” or “0,” whereas quantum computing allows for much more complex computations with a single “qubit” through the phenomena of quantum mechanics.

What can we do today to lay the foundation for a quantum-ready economy?

For now, however, the power of quantum computing is limited because those “qubits” are unstable. Physicists are working on ways to stabilize this key element of quantum computing, but quantum processing units (QPUs) currently have to operate at extremely cold temperatures, close to absolute zero.

“The reason that quantum computing is relevant specifically for AI is that it allows for types of computations that just aren't feasible on classical hardware,” says Mulet, although he is quick to clarify that “there's nothing that can be done on quantum hardware that can't be done on classical hardware as it stands right now, it’s the potential of what will be feasible in the next two hardware generations that is enabling new applications.”

The CDL was inspired to create their state-of-the-art Quantum Machine Learning program based on the success of their Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning stream, which commenced three years ago.

Daniel Mulet at the Creative Destruction Lab (University of Toronto/Geoffrey Vendeville)

Daniel Mulet at the Creative Destruction Lab (University of Toronto/Geoffrey Vendeville)

“As soon as we specialized in a type of technology,” says Mulet, referring to AI “it attracted the best investors looking to see those companies from around the world,” naming Bloomberg Beta, Google Ventures, Bessemer, Spark, Lux, DFJ, and Khosla as examples of some of the venture capital firms that have scouted the CDL for AI startups.

As major tech giants like Microsoft and Google funnel millions of dollars into quantum computing research, Mulet wants to make sure Toronto is on the radar when venture capital gets interested in the technology.

The program will be operating out of the ONRamp workspace at University of Toronto’s St. George campus, where entrepreneurs will have cloud-based access to a $15 million quantum computer built by Vancouver’s D-Wave Systems, as well as a gate-model system build by Rigetti Computing in Silicon Valley.

If you start early, you have such a big advantage over people who join the game a little bit too late.”

After putting out a worldwide call for applicants, Mulet and his colleagues winnowed the list down to about 40 qualified entrepreneurs from 16 countries, all of whom hold some kind of graduate degree in a highly-specialized scientific field. They spent September in training on how to operate the D-Wave and Rigetti computers under the guidance of Peter Wittek, from the quantum information theory group at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona.

“There's a group that wants to make quantum-ready cryptocurrency, there are groups that want to create completely new materials that have never been imagined,” says Mulet, describing some of the businesses taking up space in the new QML program as “large, long-term moonshot plays” in terms of their breadth and ambition.

“If you start early,” says Mulet, “you have such a big advantage over people who join the game a little bit too late.”

The University of Toronto and the CDL are getting ahead of the wave, to make sure that Canada and Toronto are a part of the future in Quantum Computing. To learn more about the Quantum Machine Learning program, check out the Creative Destruction Lab’s website.