26 Feb The TIME for Quantum Is Now: A Q&A with D-Wave Team Leader Beth Sanzone
LaunchSquad client D-Wave Systems is making a big splash. They’ve built the first and only commercial quantum computer, one that will be able to handle certain computations thousands of times faster than today’s classical computers. Based on the principles of quantum physics, these amazing machines have customers like Google and NASA clamoring to test them out. We interviewed team lead Beth Sanzone to learn a little more about how LaunchSquad is partnering with D-Wave.
Q. Tell us a little bit about D-Wave. What are they working on, and why are you excited about working with them?
A. We’re on the cusp of a new era of computing, and D-Wave is leading the way. They built the first and only commercial quantum computer and are working with giants like Google, Lockheed Martin, NASA and others to put the computer to work.
Everything about D-Wave is exciting. They have a bold vision. They have been relentless in executing it. They’re advancing science and engineering by doing something that has never been done before. They’re also an insanely brilliant group of scientists, physicists, engineers, mathematicians, entrepreneurs, collaborators, leaders, etc. And they are passionately focused on helping solve some of our most intractable problems. Because they are taking the road less traveled, they have been the center of skepticism and criticism. Despite that, they continue to stay madly focused on innovating (a.k.a. running through brick walls) and maintaining a culture of transparency and openness.
Q. So what exactly is a quantum computer, in layman’s terms?
A quantum computer exploits quantum mechanics, the laws of physics that govern all particles in the universe, to solve problems with incredible speed. The computers we use today only allow bits of information to live in one state (0 or 1) at a time. A quantum computer, on the other hand, uses qubits (quantum bits) that enable bits of information to be a 1, 0 or both 0 and 1 simultaneously. The result is a faster, much more powerful computation system that can manipulate and assess all combinations of information concurrently, helping us solve problems that previously were unsolvable.
Q. Congrats on the TIME cover — that’s a huge deal. How exactly did that come about?
A. Cover stories are rare. Very few companies will ever get that type of exposure. It’s pretty remarkable and indicative of the groundbreaking nature of what D-Wave is doing. Lev Grossman, a well-known writer and reporter, contacted us in the fall of 2013 wanting to chat with D-Wave and potentially visit Burnaby, Canada, the home of the “infinity machine.” There was no indication that this could turn into a cover story at that point. However, a couple weeks after the initial conversation, Lev flew to Burnaby to hear the D-Wave story first-hand and see the quantum computer up close. After that, there were numerous follow-up conversations plus a lot of fact-checking, information-sharing, photo shoots, etc. Given how journalism has changed over the last decade, it was refreshing to see the level of time, work and rigor that went into developing the article.
Q. The TIME cover led to a conversation with the reporter on Charlie Rose as well. Were you guys expecting that?
A. It doesn’t get much more exciting than a TIME cover and a Charlie Rose interview. The D-Wave and quantum computing story was a natural fit for Charlie. He loves a good science and innovation story, so it’s not entirely surprising that he jumped at the opportunity to have Lev on the program to talk about the story.
Q. Were there any interesting PR lessons learned in this process for you?
A. The D-Wave story is complex and technical. This is not just another app or piece of software that’s easy to use, play with and write a story. There’s a deeper level of reporting that is required to unearth the truth and to understand the technology. If there’s a story arc for quantum computing as a whole, we’re still in the education phase right now. Most journalists — and most PR professionals, for that matter — don’t have a solid background in quantum physics. So there’s a real learning curve. This is meaty stuff, and it definitely has a futuristic, almost science fiction feel to it. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
Q. Why do you think quantum computing is resonating so well with the media right now?
A. Quantum computing represents a transformative shift in computing, and we’re at a tipping point right now where the computers are starting to be put to use. We’ve moved out of the research labs and are exploring applications now. That story is powerful. It’s part remarkable scientific advancement, part societal implications. And then, of course, there’s a strong human interest story rooted in the people who are behind this endeavor. It has lots of layers to explore, which is thrilling for all of us who love a good story.
Q. What’s your favorite experience from working on the D-Wave team so far?
A. There’s no playbook for a client like D-Wave, so for those of us on the team, every day is akin to exploring a new city! We get to do new things and help tell a story that hasn’t been told before. Also, the people working at D-Wave are not only brilliant — they’re humble and kind to boot. They’re the kind of people you want to champion.
Also, getting to see the D-Wave Two System (D-Wave’s 512 qubit processor) for ourselves in Burnaby was phenomenal. It was one of those rare moments when you realize you’re witnessing history.
Photo Credit: Time Inc.