Eric Schmidt And Marc Benioff Are Backing A New Company That Aims To Protect Businesses Against Quantum Cyberattacks
Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and a venture fund set up by Salesforce founder Marc Benioff are among a group of investors backing Sandbox AQ, a newly independent quantum business that was formerly embedded within Alphabet.
Jack Hidary, Sandbox AQ’s CEO, refuses to disclose the exact amount of funding the business has raised, but says it’s “well into the nine figures.” The money will be used to add more skilled staff to the company’s 55-person team and to fund research and development.
According to Schmidt, Sandbox AQ—the A stands for AI and the Q for quantum—has a game plan that involves generating short-term revenue by using machine learning and AI to develop software that protects data from cyberattacks involving quantum computers, which tap some of the almost-mystical properties of quantum physics to generate processing power that can outstrip that of even the most powerful supercomputers. The company will also pursue longer-term research in areas such as quantum sensors, which can potentially be used as navigation aids for trucks, ships and aircraft.
Cryptographic breaking point
Quantum computers are in their infancy and their researchers are still grappling with significant engineering and other challenges associated with them, but some companies and governments are already preparing their data and networks for the day when those hurdles are finally overcome. “At some point in the future, it should be possible to break [conventionally] encrypted data,” says Schmidt. “That is a huge, huge thing.”
Plenty of other companies, including corporate giants such as IBM and startups such as Isara and QuSecure, already offer “quantum safe” algorithms that can run on existing computers, so Sandbox AQ will be playing in an increasingly competitive field. Its financial backers, who in addition to Schmidt and Benioff’s TIME Ventures include T. Rowe Price, Breyer Capital and Guggenheim Partners, are betting its experience building protection for Google will help it stand out.
Neither Google nor Alphabet is an investor in the new company, but there will still be business ties between them. Sandbox AQ will work closely with Google Cloud, helping to provide quantum-safe cryptography to the cloud computing group’s customers, but this won’t be an exclusive arrangement. “The world is multicloud and one has to recognize that,” explains Hidary.
Sandbox AQ already has already signed up several customers, including Mount Sinai Health System in the U.S. and Japan’s Softbank, which plans to test quantum-secure algorithms on its 4G, 5G and WiFi networks later this year. In emailed comments to Forbes, Ryuji Wakikawa, the head of Softbank’s advanced technology division, says it intends to verify the software’s impact on the networks’ performance and hopes its adoption will be a big step “toward realizing the ultra-safe communications required in the coming 6G era.”
A quantum compass?
Revenue from such deals will help support the longer-term research that Sandbox AQ is planning. Onboard quantum sensors could be valuable for, say, ships and submarines that find themselves cut off from other sources of location data, such as the GPS system. There’s been much discussion recently about creating a backup for GPS, which is potentially vulnerable to cyber and physical attacks. Other companies have already launched trials to test the idea of a quantum “compass”, but Hidary sounds a note of caution: “Quantum sensing is R&D, it’s not ready for market today.”
Several quantum business have already navigated to the public market, including $2.7 billion market cap IonQ and Rigetti Computing, which has a market cap of $758 million. Might Sandbox AQ be tempted to follow them to an IPO in the not-too-distant future? Schmidt dismisses that scenario and says he and its other financial backers are investing in the company for the long haul. “I’ve taken four companies public and I’m not in any hurry to do a fifth.”
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