AI Meets Quantum Technology in New Google Spinoff, Sandbox AQ
Sandbox AQ, a new spinoff from Alphabet (Google), is looking to use AI and quantum technologies to solve today's problems in cybersecurity, sensing, and communications.
Sandbox AQ’s CEO and founder, Jack Hidary, knows a thing or two about applying quantum principles. In fact, he wrote a book on it: Quantum Computing: An Applied Approach. Additionally, after six years of working within Alphabet, Inc. (the parent company of Google), his research group has finally been spun out as a separate entity.
While significantly useful, quantum computers may still be a few years away, Sandbox AQ is looking to solve current problems using artificial intelligence and quantum physics, without waiting for quantum computers.
“What we found is that we can make use of AI and quantum technology today, that can be run today, that can work today, for businesses and for large enterprises,” said Hidary.
In fact, one of Sandbox AQ’s first big efforts is in the area of cybersecurity and it explicitly needs to be solved before quantum computers become powerful enough to start breaking today’s codes.
Governments, defense contractors, financial institutions, and healthcare facilities often need to keep information secret for decades. That means that secure communication sent today using currently robust encryption standards like 2048-bit RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) could be captured and stored for future quantum decryption to access that secret information.
Quantum decryption algorithms could enable the breaking of even 2048-bit RSA encryption through a massive reduction in compute time. Image used courtesy of Scientific Reports and Li et al
The U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), among many others, has been working for years on post-quantum cryptography, which is also called quantum-resistant cryptography. They are developing new cryptographic system standards that could be secure against future quantum computers and can integrate with current communications protocols and networks.
According to Hidary, this six-year multinational, multi-stakeholder process is coming to a “good conclusion.” The rollout of these standards was one of the factors that helped make this the right time for Sandbox AQ to separate from Alphabet.
Sandbox AQ believes AI is crucial for post-quantum cryptography implementations.
“An AI model chooses in real-time which of the protocols and which of the parameters to use to encrypt and decrypt at that moment,” explained Hidary. Their current commercial product is designed to bring this improved security to the billions of smartphones, laptops, servers, and IoT devices around the world. “The good news is we can do that in software,” added Hidary.
These security protocols will need to be added to data centers, point-of-sale devices, microcontrollers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Additionally, the company has announced projects with Vodafone and Softbank on post-quantum cryptography-enabled virtual private networks (VPNs).
“If you are designing chips, they’re going to need to support this these post-RSA encryption-decryption protocols,” Hidary states. “This is a generational transition.”
In addition, Sandbox AQ is using AI to support security audits in what they call the “discovery process” to sniff out system vulnerabilities.
“If you have a large enterprise network comprised of lots of subnets, endpoints, hardware, firewalls, routers, and so forth, you have a lot of discovery to do to figure out where are you using the vulnerable protocols.”
Quantum Computing Needs Fault Tolerance
Overall, Sandbox AQ is aiming to keep an eye on advances in the quantum computing field. However, Hidary mentioned that they do not expect to use quantum processing units (QPUs) until those devices scale to higher quantum bit (qubit) counts and become fault-tolerant through the addition of error correction.
He does look forward to the “very exciting future” when CPUs, GPUs, and QPUs work together in the cloud—each doing what they do best.
IBM Q System One quantum computer. Image used courtesy of IBM and Forbes
Quantum Sensing and Communication Lead the Way
While the impact of QPUs may be many years out, Sandbox AQ is working with quantum phenomena in the fields of sensing and communications. Hidary described quantum magnetometry as a future complement to GPS navigation like how "birds and some species of whales can navigate thousands of kilometers very precisely using the Earth's magnetic field." If we could harness this capability, it could provide a reliable backup in GPS-denied environments.
Potential applications for quantum sensing. Image used courtesy of McKinsey & Co
Quantum coherent communication is also of key interest to Sandbox AQ. Hidary described a new communications network being developed as a parallel Internet but based on the quantum concepts of superposition and entanglement.
While it will take many years to build, according to Hidary, it is being created now around the world.
How Do I Get Into the AI and Quantum Industry?
In our conversation, one of the key messages that Hidary wanted to get across was Sandbox AQ’s support for educating the next generation of AI and quantum engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. For Sandbox AQ this includes partnerships with universities around the world and a residency program for Ph.D. students and post-docs.
“We provide a generous stipend, and we also provide a lot of training that is complementary to the training they will get in academia. And they also get to realize that you can do world-class science and research in a commercial setting as well.”
As for Hidary personally, that has meant writing a textbook on applied quantum computing and providing free code downloads as a companion to the book. “The number one question I get is, ‘How do I ramp up in quantum?'” Hidary explained. “That’s why I had to write this book.”
Steady Progress Towards a Quantum World
While quantum processors get most of the press, Hidary envisions a world where quantum processors, quantum sensors, and other quantum devices all communicate with each other via a quantum coherent network. With its high-profile coming-out party and backing from a broad spectrum of industries, Sandbox AQ will be interesting to keep an eye on in the coming quantum world.
Featured image used courtesy of Innopay