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The Unitary Fund: a no-strings attached grant program for Open Source quantum computing

This is a Guest Post written by Will Zeng.

Editorial Note: As part of our ongoing efforts to support Open Source projects in quantum computation and simulation, we have invited Will Zeng to pen a guest blog post on the Unitary Fund, a new program to support the development of Open Source projects for quantum computing. Will is the Head of Quantum Cloud Services at Rigetti Computing, a Berkeley-based quantum computing start-up. PLOS ONE is supporting the fund with a small contribution.

Quantum computing has the potential to be a revolutionary technology. From the first applications in cryptography and database search to more modern quantum applications across simulation, optimization, and machine learning. This promise has led industrial, government, and academic efforts in quantum computing to grow globally. Posted jobs in the field have grown 6 fold in the last two years. Quantum computing hardware and platforms, designed by startups and tech giants alike, continue to improve. Now there are new opportunities to discover how to best program and use these new machines. As I wrote last year: the first quantum computers will need smart software.

Quantum computing also remains a place where small teams and open research projects can make a big difference. The open nature is important as Open Source software has the lowest barriers  for others to understand, share and build upon existing projects. In a new field that needs to grow, this rapid sharing and development is especially important. I’ve experienced this myself through leading the Open Source Forest project at Rigetti Computing and also by watching the growing ecosystem of open projects like QISKit, OpenFermion, ProjectQ, Strawberry Fields, XaCC, Cirq, and many others. The hackathons and community efforts from around the world are inspiring.

My interpretation of these developments is that we are codifying, in Open Source software, the mathematics of quantum computing that have been developed over the last few decades. The fact that a lot of this software is Open Source makes the field more accessible and interactive. It allows us to progress faster, together. It is much more effective to stand on the shoulders of giants when you can import them as an API. I wish that I had had these tools in grad school or had support to work on them earlier.

Building and sharing more of these tools can help the field more quickly develop the applications that will realize the full potential of quantum computing.

In talks over the last months I’ve found myself emphasizing open areas for the community that are important, and that I wish more folks were working on. These are (1) debugging and developer tools for variational quantum programming, (2) optimizing compilers, (3) application-specific tools (like OpenFermion, a quantum programming library targeted at quantum chemists and their applications), and (4) anything that makes it easier to develop applications for quantum computers. This is just a start and I’m sure there are many other areas.

I’m have recently started to put my money where my mouth is. I’m offering cash grants of $2k for proposals through the new Unitary Fund.

The fund is designed to help explorers across the world start to contribute to quantum computing in a welcoming fashion. Anyone of any age in any country can apply with any project that leverages near-term quantum computing. Examples are contributions to new or existing quantum software projects, research towards new algorithms, creating benchmarks and metrics for quantum computers, and tools for educating and explaining quantum computing. We’ll pay particular attention to projects that look like they wouldn’t get funded in other ways.

The money contributed is a gift and not an investment or loan and we won’t own any of the intellectual property. The only request is that you think about how to pay this forward to other.

The fund has made grants to two exciting projects so far. Lucas Saldyt will be building an open source prototype of a probabilistic quantum programming language. Aleks Kissinger and John van de Wetering are developing PyZX, an open optimizing compiler for quantum programs whose techniques are inspired by diagrammatic rewrites in monoidal categories.

Thanks to additional support from John Hering, Jeff Cordova and Nima Alidoust, we now have support for the first nine grants!

Inspired by similar programs I’ve seen, the application and program is as simple as possible. Check it out.

Competing interests: Will Zeng is employed by Rigetti Computing.

Image Credit: Erik Lucero, Martinis Group, University of California, Santa Barbara

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