Quantum Bits: IBM Tackles Noisy Machines; IonQ Issues Benchmarks; D-Wave Expands Leap

By John Russell

March 27, 2019

Keeping up with quantum computing announcements is increasingly challenging. Today, IBM issued a paper outlining a technique for error mitigation in today’s noisy QCs. Last week IonQ posted a paper benchmarking its ion trap system and declared, “our system outperforms all other currently available hardware” while a Microsoft-led group announced formation of the Northwest Quantum Nexus. Yesterday D-Wave Systems announced expansion of its web portal Leap during its User Meeting (Qubits Europe 2019, Milan) which includes industry heavyweights such as BMW, G.E. Research, and Volkswagen.

Widespread use of practical quantum computing may be years away, but the vanguard is pushing steadily forward. Here are bullets for five recent quantum announcements with a bit more information on a few them below:

  • IBM keeps chipping away at obstacles stalling real-world use of the current crop of noisy intermediate scale quantum computers. Its paper (Error mitigation extends the computational reach of a noisy quantum processor) claims the protocol IBM developed “will enable substantial improvements in the capabilities of near-term quantum computing hardware.” In this instance two or more wrongs can help equal a right. More below.
  • IonQ edges into early benchmark skirmishes. In its paper (Benchmarking an 11-qubit quantum computer) the company says its ion trap-based system achieved, “average single-qubit gate fidelities of 99.5%, [and] average two-qubit-gate fidelities of 97.5%.” IonQ contends the algorithms it used “serve as excellent benchmarks for any type of quantum hardware.” Recall that IBM touted Quantum Volume as its favored metric of choice just three weeks ago.
  • Microsoft, PNNL, and UWashington Join Forces. Last week, this trio announced formation of the Northwest Quantum Nexus, “a coalition of research and industrial organizations in the Pacific Northwest and neighboring regions with the goal of advancing Quantum Information Sciences (QIS) research and developing a QIS-trained workforce.”
  • D-Wave Systems reports “33 new countries includ[ing] all 28 member states of the European Union, Japan, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland” now have access to Leap, which D-Wave characterizes as “the only cloud-based service to provide real-time access to a live quantum computer, as well as open-source development tools, interactive demos, educational resources.”
  • Accredited Standards Committee X9, long-time tracker and standards association for the financial industry, issued two reports, a white paper (X9 Report Quantum Computing Risks to the Financial Services Industry) examining risks posed by QC and a technical report (X9 Technical Report TR-50 – Quantum Techniques in Cryptographic Message Syntax).

IonQ Charges into Quantum Race

Let’s start with IonQ, perhaps lesser known than quantum efforts by IBM, Microsoft, and D-Wave. It was founded in 2016 by a pair of distinguished quantum computing researchers – Chris Monroe (University of Maryland and Joint Quantum Institute) and Jungsang Kim (Duke University) – to take ion trap quantum computing from the lab to market. Monroe (CEO) and Kim (CSO) are leveraging technology they helped developed and have licensed from UM and Duke.

Most of us are more familiar with semiconductor-based quantum computing technology which dominates the quantum computing landscape. Ion trap technology has also been around for a long time and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has long experimented with it, not least for use in atomic clocks. The ion traps used in quantum computing are not so different from the ion traps used in spectrometry. Broadly, the technology involves trapping ions in an electromagnetic field and using them as qubits. While “gate switching” times are slower than semiconductor approaches, memory times are superior using ions traps.

Here’s a bit more on how the IonQ system works: “Our qubit register is comprised of a chain of trapped 171Yb+ ions, spatially confined near a microfabricated surface electrode trap. For this work, we load 13 ions, the middle 11 of which are used as qubits. The two end ions allow for a more uniform spacing of the central 11 ions. The ions are laser-cooled close to their motional ground state using a combination of Doppler and resolved sideband cooling. We encode quantum information into the hyperfine sublevels…At the beginning of each computation, each qubit is initialized to |0⟩via optical pumping with high accuracy. After qubit operations (described below), we read out the state of all of the qubits simultaneously by directing laser light resonant with the 2S1/2 |F = 1⟩to 2P1/2 transition, imaging each ion onto a detector and thresholding the photon counts to determine if each qubit was in the |1⟩(spin up) or |0⟩(spin down) state.” (See figure on right, click to enlarge.)

Monroe commented in the announcement, “The real test of any computer is what can it do in a real-world setting. We challenged our machine with tough versions of two well-known algorithms that demonstrate the advantages of quantum computing over conventional devices. The IonQ quantum computer proved it could handle them. Practical benchmarks like these are what we need to see throughout the industry.”

This is excerpted from the abstract on the benchmark performance:

“To illustrate the capabilities of this universal platform and provide a basis for comparison with similarly-sized devices, we compile the Bernstein-Vazirani (BV) and Hidden Shift (HS) algorithms into our native gates and execute them on the hardware with average success rates of 78% and 35%, respectively. These algorithms serve as excellent benchmarks for any type of quantum hardware, and show that our system outperforms all other currently available hardware.”

The Bernstein-Vazirani and Hidden Shift algorithms used in this experiment instruct a computer to find a hidden number out of a set of possible numbers. The company reported, “IonQ has solved for all possible 1024 hidden numbers with their 11-qubit machine, a more difficult task than has been attempted before on a quantum computer. Each test is based on a formula that a conventional computer can only solve by brute force…Quantum computers, in theory, can find these solutions in a single calculation by measuring all possible outputs simultaneously.”

It will be interesting to watch how ion trap quantum computing advances. Last August, NSF launched an ambitious program, Software Tailored Architecture for Quantum Design (STAQ), whose goal is to build a 64-bit ion trap QC and associated software stack capable of tackling problems classical computers struggle with. (For more information see HPCwire article, STAQ(ing) the Quantum Computing Deck)

IBM – Two Wrongs Make a Right…Sort of

IBM’s recent work tackles one of the thorniest problems in quantum computing, error correction, or in this case error mitigation. IBM has come up with a workaround that shows promise and is presented in a paper published today in Nature (Error mitigation extends the computational reach of a noisy quantum processor) and discussed in an IBM blog by Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow, and Abhinav Kandala, research staff member, who describe the problem very well.

“Even at the extreme cold temperatures of a dilution refrigerator where the quantum processors operate, our physical computing elements, superconducting qubits, have coherence times on the order of a few hundred microseconds at best, which sets the timescales over which quantum information is lost,” they write. “While a major challenge to advancing quantum computers today involves increasing these qubit coherence times, the end goal is to build a fully fault tolerant quantum computer capable of detecting and correcting errors. However, these architectures are likely several years away.”

IBM takes a perhaps counterintuitive approach in which two wrong answers – actually many wrong answers – can act as a guide to the correct answer. “We show that repeating the computation at varying levels of noise lets us estimate what the quantum computer would calculate in the absence of noise. To do this involves a bit of a “stretch” – the microwave pulses used to perform quantum operations on the qubits are stretched in time in order to controllably amplify the noise. The error mitigation technique dubbed “zero-noise extrapolation”, is readily accessible for existing quantum computers since it doesn’t require any additional hardware modifications,” write Gambetta and Kandala. (See figure from IBM paper below, click to enlarge.)

The approach, say IBM researchers, may enable tackling longer more complicated problems as well as being a general purpose technique.

“Computations on noisy quantum hardware are limited by the competition between decoherence and circuit depth, a measure of the number of sequential operations performed on the processor. Increasing circuit depth can help create more complex quantum states, and in the context of chemistry simulation, this may allow for a better representation of the energy states of the molecules considered. However, increasing circuit depth on a noisy quantum computer typically implies increased errors from decoherence. [W]ith the technique developed in this work, our ability to mitigate the effect of decoherence enables us to access more complex and accurate computations that benefit from increased circuit depth.”

While the new protocol enabled computational accuracies that were otherwise inaccessible to the hardware, the authors caution that it is important to recognize that the improvements are not indefinite and are ultimately limited by the coherence properties of the processor. “As we march towards systems with increasing Quantum Volume, improved coherence, quantum control, and circuit compilation will all contribute to extending the reach to even longer quantum circuits with more qubits,” they write.

D-Wave: It’s All About the Applications

D-Wave remains the only provider of commercially available quantum computers even though they remain research (not production) machines. Its technology – adiabatic annealing – is quite different from universal gate-based models. That said most QC watchers now agree D-wave’s approach is a solid contender for solving classes of optimization problems. Recently, the company unveiled an 18-month roadmap that includes creating a 5000-qubit system (see HPCwire article, D-Wave Previews Next-Gen Platform; Debuts Pegasus Topology; Targets 5000 Qubits).

The emphasis at this week’s D-Wave’s user meeting is on showcasing progress towards real-world applications. D-Wave says “customers have built over 150 early applications on D-Wave computers to date” and lists the following highlight topics from the conference:

  • Quantum computing algorithms for optimized planning and scheduling
  • Building a hybrid algorithm that will be used as part of a smart mobility solution
  • Inferring correlation between future stock returns and their features
  • Applications of quantum annealing for blockchain and allocation of television 
commercials
  • Quantum annealing–based optimizations of robotic movement in manufacturing
  • Optimizing flight gate assignment
  • Capacitated vehicle routing
  • Quantum chemistry calculations
  • Quantitative financial reverse stress testing

“The future of practical quantum computing relies on giving more developers and researchers the access and tools they need to build quantum applications. Expanding Leap globally and bringing customers from around the world together to share their work is critically important to realizing that vision,” said Vern Brownell, CEO of D-Wave in the official announcement. “I’ve never been more confident that true practical quantum applications are within reach in the near future. The range and robustness of early applications from our customers continues to grow, and customers are starting to see early value in using quantum computing to address real-world business problems.”

Northwest Quantum Nexus Sets Aggressive Agenda

Obviously these are early days but the newly-announced Northwest Quantum Nexus is quickly moving to establish directions. At a two-day summit last week announcing NQN, the group issued the following statement:

“In line with the goals of the National Quantum Initiative Act, the Northwest Quantum Nexus accelerates Quantum Information Science (QIS) to develop a quantum economy and workforce in the greater Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada. The high concentration of quantum activity in the Northwest makes it one of the top regions globally to address key QIS needs. The goal of the two-day Summit this week is to bring together the region’s experts who can define the region’s potential to drive quantum computing’s future.

Its objectives include:

  • Bringing together academia, government, startups, and industry to pursue multi-disciplinary QIS research to deliver scalable quantum computing.
  • Pursuing quantum computing via collaborative research and development, targeted quantum algorithms and programming, and the development of quantum materials.
  • Capitalizing on public-private partnerships to promote a rapid exchange of knowledge and resources and drive discoveries in quantum technologies.
  • Applying research outcomes to application areas and testbeds, including clean energy and sustainability.
  • Cultivating the future quantum workforce through programs that range from early to higher education and professional levels, as well as the corresponding network of institutions and outlets offering curriculum and training opportunities.”

Todd Holmdahl, corporate VP of Microsoft Quantum, said “The Northwest Quantum Nexus represents another big step toward the development of scalable, stable quantum computers. The partnership just makes a lot of sense – we’re already one of the top regions in the world for quantum research, and the Nexus will help us leverage that expertise to build a quantum-ready workforce and boost the region and nation’s quantum ecosystem.”

Feature illustration caption: Single qubit trajectories measured at different noise levels (red, green) are used to estimate the error-mitigated trajectory (blue). Source: IBM

Link to IonQ paper: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1903.08181.pdf

Link to IonQ announcement: https://ionq.co/news/march-21-2019-new-benchmarks

Link to IBM paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1040-7

Link to IBM blog: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/research/2019/03/noise-amplification-quantum-processors

Link to D-Wave announcements: https://www.dwavesys.com/press-releases/d-wave-expands-leap-quantum-cloud-service-and-application-environment-europe-and

Link to X9: https://x9.org

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industry updates delivered to you every week!

Aurora AI-Driven Atmosphere Model is 5,000x Faster Than Traditional Systems

July 16, 2024

While the onset of human-driven climate change brings with it many horrors, the increase in the frequency and strength of storms poses an enormous threat to communities across the globe. As climate change is warming ocea Read more…

Researchers Say Memory Bandwidth and NVLink Speeds in Hopper Not So Simple

July 15, 2024

Researchers measured the real-world bandwidth of Nvidia's Grace Hopper superchip, with the chip-to-chip interconnect results falling well short of theoretical claims. A paper published on July 10 by researchers in the U. Read more…

Belt-Tightening in Store for Most Federal FY25 Science Budets

July 15, 2024

If it’s summer, it’s federal budgeting time, not to mention an election year as well. There’s an excellent summary of the curent state of FY25 efforts reported in AIP’s policy FYI: Science Policy News. Belt-tight Read more…

Peter Shor Wins IEEE 2025 Shannon Award

July 15, 2024

Peter Shor, the MIT mathematician whose ‘Shor’s algorithm’ sent shivers of fear through the encryption community and helped galvanize ongoing efforts to build quantum computers, has been named the 2025 winner of th Read more…

Weekly Wire Roundup: July 8-July 12, 2024

July 12, 2024

HPC news can get pretty sleepy in June and July, but this week saw a bump in activity midweek as Americans realized they still had work to do after the previous holiday weekend. The world outside the United States also s Read more…

Nvidia, Intel not Welcomed in New Apple AI and HPC Development Tools

July 12, 2024

New Mac developer tools will leverage Apple's homegrown chips, limiting HPC users' ability to use parallel programming frameworks from Intel or Nvidia. Apple's latest programming framework, Xcode 16, was introduced at Read more…

Aurora AI-Driven Atmosphere Model is 5,000x Faster Than Traditional Systems

July 16, 2024

While the onset of human-driven climate change brings with it many horrors, the increase in the frequency and strength of storms poses an enormous threat to com Read more…

Shutterstock 1886124835

Researchers Say Memory Bandwidth and NVLink Speeds in Hopper Not So Simple

July 15, 2024

Researchers measured the real-world bandwidth of Nvidia's Grace Hopper superchip, with the chip-to-chip interconnect results falling well short of theoretical c Read more…

Shutterstock 2203611339

NSF Issues Next Solicitation and More Detail on National Quantum Virtual Laboratory

July 10, 2024

After percolating for roughly a year, NSF has issued the next solicitation for the National Quantum Virtual Lab program — this one focused on design and imple Read more…

NCSA’s SEAS Team Keeps APACE of AlphaFold2

July 9, 2024

High-performance computing (HPC) can often be challenging for researchers to use because it requires expertise in working with large datasets, scaling the softw Read more…

Anders Jensen on Europe’s Plan for AI-optimized Supercomputers, Welcoming the UK, and More

July 8, 2024

The recent ISC24 conference in Hamburg showcased LUMI and other leadership-class supercomputers co-funded by the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU), including three Read more…

Generative AI to Account for 1.5% of World’s Power Consumption by 2029

July 8, 2024

Generative AI will take on a larger chunk of the world's power consumption to keep up with the hefty hardware requirements to run applications. "AI chips repres Read more…

US Senators Propose $32 Billion in Annual AI Spending, but Critics Remain Unconvinced

July 5, 2024

Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, and three colleagues want the US government to spend at least $32 billion annually by 2026 for non-defense related AI systems.  T Read more…

Point and Click HPC: High-Performance Desktops

July 3, 2024

Recently, an interesting paper appeared on Arvix called Use Cases for High-Performance Research Desktops. To be clear, the term desktop in this context does not Read more…

Atos Outlines Plans to Get Acquired, and a Path Forward

May 21, 2024

Atos – via its subsidiary Eviden – is the second major supercomputer maker outside of HPE, while others have largely dropped out. The lack of integrators and Atos' financial turmoil have the HPC market worried. If Atos goes under, HPE will be the only major option for building large-scale systems. Read more…

Everyone Except Nvidia Forms Ultra Accelerator Link (UALink) Consortium

May 30, 2024

Consider the GPU. An island of SIMD greatness that makes light work of matrix math. Originally designed to rapidly paint dots on a computer monitor, it was then Read more…

Comparing NVIDIA A100 and NVIDIA L40S: Which GPU is Ideal for AI and Graphics-Intensive Workloads?

October 30, 2023

With long lead times for the NVIDIA H100 and A100 GPUs, many organizations are looking at the new NVIDIA L40S GPU, which it’s a new GPU optimized for AI and g Read more…

Shutterstock_1687123447

Nvidia Economics: Make $5-$7 for Every $1 Spent on GPUs

June 30, 2024

Nvidia is saying that companies could make $5 to $7 for every $1 invested in GPUs over a four-year period. Customers are investing billions in new Nvidia hardwa Read more…

Nvidia Shipped 3.76 Million Data-center GPUs in 2023, According to Study

June 10, 2024

Nvidia had an explosive 2023 in data-center GPU shipments, which totaled roughly 3.76 million units, according to a study conducted by semiconductor analyst fir Read more…

AMD Clears Up Messy GPU Roadmap, Upgrades Chips Annually

June 3, 2024

In the world of AI, there's a desperate search for an alternative to Nvidia's GPUs, and AMD is stepping up to the plate. AMD detailed its updated GPU roadmap, w Read more…

Some Reasons Why Aurora Didn’t Take First Place in the Top500 List

May 15, 2024

The makers of the Aurora supercomputer, which is housed at the Argonne National Laboratory, gave some reasons why the system didn't make the top spot on the Top Read more…

Intel’s Next-gen Falcon Shores Coming Out in Late 2025 

April 30, 2024

It's a long wait for customers hanging on for Intel's next-generation GPU, Falcon Shores, which will be released in late 2025.  "Then we have a rich, a very Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Google Announces Sixth-generation AI Chip, a TPU Called Trillium

May 17, 2024

On Tuesday May 14th, Google announced its sixth-generation TPU (tensor processing unit) called Trillium.  The chip, essentially a TPU v6, is the company's l Read more…

Nvidia H100: Are 550,000 GPUs Enough for This Year?

August 17, 2023

The GPU Squeeze continues to place a premium on Nvidia H100 GPUs. In a recent Financial Times article, Nvidia reports that it expects to ship 550,000 of its lat Read more…

Nvidia’s New Blackwell GPU Can Train AI Models with Trillions of Parameters

March 18, 2024

Nvidia's latest and fastest GPU, codenamed Blackwell, is here and will underpin the company's AI plans this year. The chip offers performance improvements from Read more…

IonQ Plots Path to Commercial (Quantum) Advantage

July 2, 2024

IonQ, the trapped ion quantum computing specialist, delivered a progress report last week firming up 2024/25 product goals and reviewing its technology roadmap. Read more…

Choosing the Right GPU for LLM Inference and Training

December 11, 2023

Accelerating the training and inference processes of deep learning models is crucial for unleashing their true potential and NVIDIA GPUs have emerged as a game- Read more…

The NASA Black Hole Plunge

May 7, 2024

We have all thought about it. No one has done it, but now, thanks to HPC, we see what it looks like. Hold on to your feet because NASA has released videos of wh Read more…

Q&A with Nvidia’s Chief of DGX Systems on the DGX-GB200 Rack-scale System

March 27, 2024

Pictures of Nvidia's new flagship mega-server, the DGX GB200, on the GTC show floor got favorable reactions on social media for the sheer amount of computing po Read more…

MLPerf Inference 4.0 Results Showcase GenAI; Nvidia Still Dominates

March 28, 2024

There were no startling surprises in the latest MLPerf Inference benchmark (4.0) results released yesterday. Two new workloads — Llama 2 and Stable Diffusion Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire