To work its computational magic, a qubit must be in multiple states at once, a complex, delicate state called superposition. Leaders of quantum computer companies and startups are finding that they also need to place their organizations in an equally delicate superposition: maintaining solid business practices, yet ambitiously driving deep science initiatives; respecting the power of this technology to promote massive change while also understanding its commercial potential.
Scott Faris, who joined ColdQuanta as its CEO in August 2021 appears to be in the right place, at the right time and equipped with the correct tools to balance this pioneering quantum company’s own superposition. Faris has a background in bringing high technology ventures to market, decades of experience as an executive in several emerging advanced tech firms and a passion for science and engineering.
One of the lessons Faris learned in his career is to remain focused on the business case for a product and not allow the technology — no matter how cool and how advanced — to distract the company from delivering the benefits of that technology to its customers. And Faris has been involved in very cool and highly advanced technological projects. He just recently served as chief business officer for Luminar Technologies, an autonomous vehicle sensor and software company and worked as CEO of Planar Energy, Inc., a company developing solid state batteries for electric vehicles.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is create value to the outside world for some really great research and science, and build a business out of that, a business that changes the world and creates wealth for folks along the way.”
“I feel I’m the person who walks in the room and says, ‘Okay, let’s assess what we’re doing and how can we keep this focused in a line?’” said Faris “Ultimately, what we want to do is create value to the outside world for some really great research and science, and build a business out of that, a business that changes the world and creates wealth for folks along the way.”
With the world-changing potential of quantum computation and quantum sensors beckoning, Faris realizes that quantum represents another level of advanced technologies to improve society and advance science.
“What’s really exciting about the compute and the sensing side is, in many ways, we’ve hit the wall on our traditional way of thinking, the deep tech of how we solve problems is starting to reach diminishing returns and it’s doing so at a time when the complexity of our problems is getting bigger and bigger,” said Faris. “I think we are in the nexus of having to deal with more and more complex problems and more multifaceted complex problems — as it relates to the environment and healthcare and all the things that we’re starting to grapple with — and that needs an entirely different level of computational analysis and thinking, and the inputs to all of that need to be far better.”
Quantum technology could provide a solution to this challenge.
“If we can build quantum sensors, and we have quantum compute platforms, these work perfectly well together, to put us on a very different plane to have a good chance of tackling some of the most complex problems facing not only mankind, but just also unraveling some of the fundamental mysteries of the universe.”
Quantum Learning Curve
While critics think that quantum computing and quantum technology will never be ready to bring about the advances Faris mentioned and quantum advocates believe it’s ready now, ColdQuanta’s new CEO maintains a more nuanced view — balancing optimism and realism — on the future progress of quantum technology. Ultimately, though, he believes it is a good time, if not the best time, to be working in quantum.
“It is like anything else, this is a learning curve. It’s going to take time for everybody to understand how to really unlock the value of the technology, how to optimally use it.”
“I think there are problems that can be done on even some of the earlier quantum computers, and I think there are hybrid environments where we can use both classical and quantum to start addressing problems,” said Faris. “It’s true we’re not going to wake up one day, and everybody’s suddenly an expert on this. It is like anything else, this is a learning curve. It’s going to take time for everybody to understand how to really unlock the value of the technology, how to optimally use it. But, I think we’re at a point that is exciting to me. The technology is mature enough that we can start that dance. Where users can really start learning to understand the real value, but also understanding the real estate. We certainly have to kind of go through the lifecycle of a technology, maturity, but it all starts with people willing to engage in starting to learn the technology outside the traditional user base.”
He added that it is time to move quantum out of research labs and into the hands of people.
“Historically this has been a tool that’s been used within the research community to advance the underlying science,” Faris said. “I think we’re now at a point where the tools are starting to mature that we can start talking and engaging with folks in the financial world, the biological and the pharmaceutical worlds.”
Faris is familiar, if not comfortable with operating in emergent eras when big concepts meet advanced technologies. In some ways, the quantum space reflects his own experience in the emerging autonomous vehicle industry.
“To me, this is much like where we were with LIDAR and in autonomous driving,” he said. “You don’t start off with the perfectly perfect autonomous vehicle. You start off learning the constraints, and you start engineering your way out of the constraints. And as everybody learns, collectively — both the technology developers and the end users — everybody’s expectations become set appropriately.”
Far from being intimidated by the complexities of the emerging quantum industry, Faris sees the challenges — and the 15-year history of Colorado-based ColdQuanta’s pioneering approach to manage those challenges — as part of the reason he joined the company.
“To me, what’s really attractive about Cold Quanta is the modality that we’re using, the fundamental toolkit, as I say, is something I’ve been working with my entire life, it’s lasers and scanners and receivers,” said Faris. “And, as I like to say, we’re gonna lasso some atoms and put them in some cool configurations and watch what they do under certain conditions. And from that vast information comes out of it.”
To lasso those atoms, ColdQuanta has another advantage, according to Faris. ColdQuanta uses lasers to trap caesium atoms, which have been used for years in quantum operations, such as atomic clocks.
“Mother Nature gave us the right atom,” said Faris. “We don’t have to go figure that part out. It really becomes a matter of taking this existing set of tools that a lot of people have invested time and money in. And so we have a roadmap where we can make more powerful computers and — at the same time — start to make them smaller and smaller.”
An interdisciplinary background and entrepreneurial attitude — not just in learning from other quantum companies, but parallel industries and fields — will help ColdQuanta grow as well, Faris said.
“One of the things I’ve done throughout my career is I’ve gone from industry to industry, and take what I’ve learned from these industries and core technologies, and apply that to a parallel industry. So, some of these problems may have been solved, but may not necessarily be apparent to the people in the quantum world. It’s a matter of connecting the dots, basically bridging the language barriers, because they’re all talking about the same things — such as laser fidelity and beam steering fidelity — that folks in the cold atom field are talking about. A lot of it is just a continuum of what I’ve already been working on.”
Reorganization for Scalability
Recently, ColdQuanta announced that it had reorganized into three divisions — Quantum Computing (“Hilbert”), Quantum Research as a Service (“QRaaS”) and ColdAtom Technologies (“CAT”). Faris thinks the move makes good business sense.
“What we tried to do is really take a step back and say, there are very distinct business lines within the business and from an investor’s perspective and an executive management perspective, we can evaluate the performance of what we’re doing this way. It’s a matter of putting these things into some buckets so we can understand where we want to make investments, where we may or may not want to make investments, where do we want to grow? We can account for them, we can track them, we know if we’re making good investment decisions to grow certain parts of the business, we understand where there’s synergies and we understand where there may be conflicts. It’s really just a way to set the business up to scale.”
The move shows how Faris’s combined business and tech background will help tackle the business challenges facing quantum companies — which may be as equally daunting as the scientific challenges.
“A lot of companies — great companies with great technologies — fail not because there’s not a market, not because of a lack of money, not because of lack of technology, but because they haven’t built the infrastructure and the bones in the company that scale,” said Faris.
“… We are closing the gap on gate fidelity very, very quickly.”
Faris is looking ahead and is already excited about several milestones that are appearing just on the horizon.
Getting the company’s 100-qubit quantum computer — Hilbert — available on the cloud is one milestone. They will also work to improve gate fidelity.
“Gate fidelity has often been one of the criticisms for cold atoms and we’re not necessarily where everybody else is, but we are closing the gap on gate fidelity very, very quickly.”
The Rest of the Leadership Team
Faris will be joined by Paul Lipman, president of quantum computing, who will head up the Quantum Computing division and Max Perez, who will serve as the general manager of Quantum Research as a Service. ColdAtom Technologies (CAT) is led by acting general manager, Sandi Mays.