Is the Chip Giant Intel putting its weight behind Quantum Computing with its release of Intel Quantum SDK v1.0?

Intel Quantum Software Development Kit

One of the world’s largest chip makers has released a new version of its SDK or Software Development Kits for Quantum Simulation. The chip maker famous for the x86 line of processors has produced processors and chips since the late sixties. The brand is synonymous with a popular 90’s advertising, “Intel Inside,” in what might be described as the “chip wars” between AMD and Cyrix. Now the technology has released version 1.0 of its simulation software, enabling users to simulate quantum circuits and run on Intel hardware.

Intel, the chip giant

You have likely used a device that incorporates Intel processors. They are everywhere, although the world has been moving away from some of the architectures created and developed by Intel, namely the x86 line of chips. However, there is a new kid in town – ARM or RISC-based devices, which differ from the x86 CISC line in several ways. But without recourse to all the technical details, the take-home message is that RISC-based chips from the likes of ARM, but also Apple (Apple SIlicon) convey numerous advantages in speed, efficiency and power usage, making for longer battery life – crucial in today’s mobile use cases.

Some may say that Intel is losing its place in the marketplace, and its chips are increasingly sidelined in favour of other makers’ products. That has to leave the chip giant wondering how to get involved with future technology, disruptive or otherwise, to ensure it doesn’t lose out to its competition. Plenty of device makers abound in the quantum space, from IonQ to IBM to Rigetti to Google. Intel doesn’t want to be left behind, but has it made enough inroads into the quantum space to head off the multitudinous competition?

Is The Chip Giant Intel Putting Its Weight Behind Quantum Computing With Its Release Of Intel Quantum Sdk V1.0?
Intel’s quantum research spans the full compute stack, from the qubit devices to the overall hardware architecture, control, software architecture and applications. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Intel Quantum SDK v1.0

We reported back in September 22 the release of the beta version, and this presents an update or, as those in the tech space might call the first official release or “1.0”. We have also reported that Intel is one of the only traditional chip markets getting involved in Quantum. Its main conventional rival, AMD, has no known Quantum Computing effort, nor does ARM. But then again, there is plenty of competition from other large tech and a myriad of start-up companies.

What does the Quantum SDK enable users to do?

Simulating a Quantum Computer is the name of the game for those that design quantum circuits. Just as those who create the current chips you use once simulated those devices on simulation software before they were produced, SImulation software allows users to develop quantum circuits and run those corcuits on conventional hardware – and by that, we mean a classical computer. That classical machine could be a machine with Intel hardware.

What use is this? Quantum Hardware is expensive and limited in the number of qubits. However, simulating comes into its own the number of qubits is not vast to simulate (that is the whole point of using a Quantum Computer in the first place). Quantum programmers can then use the SDK to create circuits that can be run in a simulation or on Intel Hardware.

The SDK allows developers to program quantum algorithms in simulation and on Intel Hardware. It features an intuitive programming interface written in C++ (a standard programming language) using an industry-standard low-level virtual machine (LLVM) compiler toolchain. As a result, Intel’s SDK offers seamless interfacing with C/C++ and has support for Python applications.

IQS has a backend capable of simulating 32 qubits on a single node up to 40 qubits on multiple nodes, which means that circuit sizes of moderate complexity can be simulated. Of course, Intel is also making Spin based Quantum Computers in a line-up known as Horse Ridge. Circuits built around Intel’s experience in Silicon manufacturing and processing, the CMOS chips are low-temperature devices and often go by the moniker of quantum dots. As there are many qubit technologies out there, it makes sense that Intel exploits its experience with silicon over its 6-decade existence.

According to Intel, here are some of the unique advantages of the SDK:

  • Code in familiar patterns: Intel has extended the industry-standard LLVM with quantum extensions and developed a quantum runtime environment modified for quantum computing. The IQS provides a state-vector simulation of a universal quantum computer.
  • Efficient execution of hybrid classical-quantum workflows: The compiler extensions allow developers to integrate results from quantum algorithms into their C++ project, opening the door to the feedback loops needed for hybrid quantum-classical algorithms like the quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA) and quantum variational eigensolver (VQE).
  • High-performance simulation: Intel® DevCloud users can build executables capable of simulating applications and algorithms with up to 32 qubits on a single computational node and more than 40 on multiple nodes.
Is The Chip Giant Intel Putting Its Weight Behind Quantum Computing With Its Release Of Intel Quantum Sdk V1.0?
Quantum Applications of the Intel SDK

Is it too little too late?

Anyone watching the technology sector, especially the quantum sector, might think this is a little late. Here one of the leaders of computing that set the standards of modern-day computing appears to be lagging. IBM allowed users to run quantum circuits in its cloud back in 2018, which is aeons ago in the technology space.

We love to see variety and competition from all parties. Still, Qiskit from IBM, now open-source, has cemented itself as the leader of the Quantum Computing programming language and framework of choice. There are some clear reasons behind this, and we think chiefly of using Python to interface and glue the Qiskit commands together to build quantum circuits. Intel has focused on C++, and its hard to see what benefit this brings to the typical quantum circuit designer.

Of course, using a single language makes sense if existing applications are in C++. However, much of the modern greenfield numerical computation performed these days happens in Python (and maybe Julia). Consider what is happening with QML (Quantum Machine Learning) space and the classical ML space, which typically uses Python to drive everything with two popular ML frameworks (PyTotch and TensorFlow), so it would make more sense to have more emphasis on Python. Intel state that you can use Python to interface, but we have yet to explore this. Either way, we think Intel needs to make its tools more accessible, and that means making everything Python or Julia-friendly. It could win over loads of converts, but the emphasis on low-level development will turn many off as they think this SDK will be poorly supported beyond Intel.

Sorry, Intel, reasonable effort, but it’s simply not enough. To stay relevant, the chip giant should make some pretty big bets on alternate technologies, and Quantum is one of them. Sure, it’s not a foregone conclusion that we will ever arrive at the millions of qubits needed to run some of the more exciting and valuable algorithms. Intel needs to make its tools easy and available and as easy as signing in and dragging a few quantum gates onto qubit lines and hitting the “run” button. There is value in what Intel is producing. Still, it needs to get with the program and make quantum computing more accessible for everyone to capture more of this nascent industry’s eyeballs and market share.

Is The Chip Giant Intel Putting Its Weight Behind Quantum Computing With Its Release Of Intel Quantum Sdk V1.0?
Intel’s Full Stack Approach to Quantum Computing

Still, by then, Intel might have gone the way of its one-time rival Cyrix, only to be resurrected on a vintage Computing YouTube channel sometime in the future. Come on, Intel, create a quantum standard of the future that we can all get behind! Read more about the SDK here.