- Alphabet has a secretive team working on quantum technologies. It’s called Sandbox.
- The team is separate from Alphabet’s futuristic X lab, but works in the same building and consists of several former X employees.
- It’s led by tech entrepreneur Jack Hidary and recently the company started revealing more info about what it’s up to.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Google’s parent company Alphabet has a secretive team working on the future of quantum technologies, and it’s finally starting to come out of the woodwork.
It’s called Sandbox (or, as it’s styled internally, [email protected]) and it’s exploring “the intersection of physics and AI.”
Sources familiar with the project say the team works in the same building as Alphabet’s moonshots division, X, and is made up largely of former X employees — but X says Sandbox operates as a separate group.
Sandbox is also independent from Google’s better-known Quantum AI team in Santa Barbara, which in 2019 claimed to reach “quantum supremacy” by having a quantum computer solve a problem exponentially faster than a classical computer. IBM disputed the claim, leading to a public sparring match between quantum computing experts.
But in early 2020, Wired first reported on the existence of a second quantum effort happening inside X. A spokesperson at the time also said that the group was separate from X. An Alphabet spokesperson told Insider that the project had been in the works for three years, though it has only recently become public.
Since 2020, the group has started to pull back the curtain on their work. Several employees have also updated their LinkedIn profiles in recent weeks to reveal that they now work as Sandbox.
Many of them said they officially became Sandbox employees this year, according to LinkedIn, and several previously had roles working on quantum research inside X.
Sources say Sandbox is trying to be an independent quantum computing lab
The Sandbox group is led by Jack Hidary, a tech entrepreneur and author of the book “Quantum Computing: An Applied Approach.” He reports to X head Astro Teller, sources say.
Hidary previously described himself as “Senior Advisor to X Labs, the advanced innovation lab of Alphabet/Google” on his own website. That was recently changed to “Director of Quantum and AI at Alphabet.”
“Sandbox is a small team at Alphabet, home to researchers exploring the intersection of physics and artificial intelligence in areas such as high performance computing,” an Alphabet spokesperson told Insider. “Sandbox collaborates and shares technical learnings across Alphabet, including with Google’s quantum and AI and Cloud teams, and with various Other Bets.”
The spokesperson declined to make Hidary or any other members of the Sandbox team available for interview. They added that the group has been named Sandbox since its inception three years ago. However, it appears that the name has only been used publicly in recent months.
Last July, Guillaume Verdon, a research scientist on the team, was introduced in an interview as a resident of X. In more recent appearances, he’s been referred to as a member of [email protected]
A spokesperson for the X labs said the Sandbox was “not at X” but said Sandbox does work closely with the teams there.
“I think the reason to keep it this way is to make sure there is some way for the project to prosper without being too tied down to Google or X,” said one current X employee familiar with the arrangement.
We’re starting to find out what Sandbox is working on
Over the past few weeks, more details about Sandbox’s work have started to emerge.
VentureBeat spotted a livestream from the Sandbox team, held back in February, where the team revealed they were building tools that would let developers take Tensor Processing Units – Google’s chips built for machine learning – to simulate quantum computing workloads.
Companies including Amazon and Microsoft also have quantum simulators, but Sandbox believes that using these TPUs will give it the edge in terms of efficiency.
“I think the hope is that by using TPUs they can expand the number of useful qubits, which means you can do more powerful computations,” Brian Hopkins, a quantum analyst at Forrester, told Insider.
Qubits, or quantum bits, are the basic units of data in quantum computing. Whereas traditional computers encode information into ones and zeroes, quantum bits can be in two states at once.
It’s not clear yet what the long-term plan for Sandbox is or how it might be different from Google’s other AI work in Santa Barbara. “I would think they’re quite joined at the hip,” Hopkins said.
One source said that the Sandbox team is currently hiring with plans to grow. Sandbox is also exploring other interesting ideas, including how to use use quantum calculations to read signals from the body over traditional methods such as electrocardiograms, they said.
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