Google and NASA Tackle Quantum Supremacy

By John Russell

November 6, 2018

According to a report yesterday in MIT Technology Review, Google is working with NASA to “prove quantum supremacy within a matter of months.” Tech Reviews reports the agreement was signed in July.

Demonstrating quantum supremacy has long been a goal within the quantum computing community although lately “quantum advantage” has gained currency. Quantum supremacy is the ability of quantum computers to perform certain tasks that classical computing cannot; quantum advantage is the ability to perform tasks sufficiently better than classical computing to become compelling use cases. (See, HPCwire article, Rigetti (and Others) Pursuit of Quantum Advantage.)

As noted in the Tech Review article, written by Mark Harris, opinions differ on whether pursuit of quantum supremacy is possible or worthwhile. He points out that “Alibaba’s Data Infrastructure and Search Technology Division published a paper suggesting that classical computers running simulations could match its performance, and that quantum chips with lower error rates might be needed.”

The Google-NASA work will focus on Google’s latest 72-qubit quantum chip, Bristlecone. In fact the agreement – “to analyze the utilization and assessment of Google’s emerging quantum processors” – necessarily covers a fair amount of work as outlined in an excerpt from the signed agreement[I] shown below (please excuse the slanted image):

The distinction between gate-based quantum processors and quantum annealers is significant here in that NASA also has a D-Wave system which is a quantum annealer. Increasingly it seems like both approaches to quantum computing will find areas of use.

In the Tech Review article, which is a solid and fast read, Harris reports the collaboration will work like this:

“Because Bristlecone requires superconducting circuits maintained at a temperature close to absolute zero, it cannot be moved from Google’s labs. Instead, researchers from the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley will connect to Bristlecone online, via Google’s Cloud API service. Google will also share current software that allows classical computers to simulate quantum circuits, so that NASA can develop and improve upon it.

“Together, the two organizations will work out how to map “a diverse array of optimization and sampling problems” to Bristlecone’s gate-model quantum computing system. Early next year, when they have agreed on the problems and initial targets for simulation, NASA will code the software necessary to run those simulations on its petaflop-scale Pleiades supercomputer, also located at Ames. Pleiades is NASA’s most powerful supercomputer, currently ranked in the top 25 worldwide.”

Google and NASA will compare results of the quantum and classical computers next summer.

Link to MIT Tech Review article: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612381/google-has-enlisted-nasa-to-help-it-prove-quantum-supremacy-within-months/

Link to contract: https://www.nasa.gov/saa/domestic/27787_Fully_Executed_NRSAA_Google_Quantum_Computing.pdf

[i]Nonreimbursable Space Act Agreement Between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Ames Research Center and Google LLC to Analyze the Utilization and Assessment of Google’s Emerging Quantum Processors, https://www.nasa.gov/saa/domestic/27787_Fully_Executed_NRSAA_Google_Quantum_Computing.pdf

 

 

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