Quantum Bits: Q-Ctrl, D-Wave Start News Flow on Eve of APS March Meeting

By John Russell

February 27, 2020

The annual trickle of quantum computing news during the lead-up to next week’s APS March Meeting 2020 has begun. Yesterday D-Wave introduced a significant upgrade to its quantum portal and tool suite, Leap2. Today quantum computing start-up Q-Ctrl announced the beta release of its ‘professional-grade’ tool Boulder Opal software claiming 10-100X improvements in error reduction and hardware stability.

No doubt more quantum news is coming. The American Physical Society’s annual March Meeting, being held in Denver this year, always features a heavy dose of quantum computing research. Last year, for example, IBM used the forum to mount a public push for its Quantum Volume benchmark. (See HPCwire coverage, IBM Pitches Quantum Volume as Benchmarking Tool for Gate-based Quantum Computers).

This year’s meeting is again packed with QC presentations. Here are a very few of the quantum computing topics and their presenting organizations along with links to the talks’ abstracts. (Many organization have several talks.)

Pivoting to this week’s news, Q-Ctrl’s new product is accompanied by paper (Software tools for quantum control: Improving quantum computer performance through noise and error suppression) that serves both as a primer on software error mitigation approaches and a description of Q-Ctrl’s products. A Sydney, Australia-based start-up, founded in 2017, Q-Ctrl, as it name implies, is focused designing firmware for quantum computers and other quantum devices.

The company describes its Boulder Opal tool thusly, “BOULDER OPAL is an advanced Python-based toolkit for developers and R&D teams using quantum control in their hardware or theoretical research. Technology agnostic and delivered via the cloud, BOULDER OPAL enables building and outputting new error-robust logic operations for even the most complex quantum circuits. The result for users is greater performance from today’s quantum computing hardware.”

Asked about the 10-100x improvements cited, company CEO Michael Biercuk responded by email, “The performance benchmarking of our solutions was based on experiments with real quantum computers using both trapped ions and superconducting circuits.  For instance, we showed factors of 10-100X improvement in hardware performance along the key metrics of:

  • Error robustness to quasistatic detuning offsets or pulse-amplitude errors (both trapped-ions and superconducting circuits)
  • Homogenization of errors across a multiqubit device (using 10 qubit parallel randomized benchmarking)
  • Stabilization of errors in time, using repeated two-qubit gates on trapped ions
  • Reduction of error correlations, as measured using randomized benchmarking on trapped ions.”

Perhaps not surprisingly there have been a fair number of start-ups in the nascent quantum computing software ecosystem. Of course, some of the bigger players are trying to play in all areas (hardware, stack development, tools and aps). Government quantum work is also steadily ratcheting up – for example the XACC software framework and the QCOR programming language and compiler developed by DoE.

The figure below from Q-Ctrl’s document shows its approach

FIG. 3. Relationships between Q-CTRL products, connectivity via API to the core cloud-compute engine, and demonstration of various means of user interaction with Q-CTRL software. For instance, BOULDER OPAL is commonly accessed through a Python interface, or in combination with the last-mile-integration package may be built directly into user quantum hardware. Meanwhile core functionality may be accessed by users building custom tools via the Q-CTRL API.

Turning to D-Wave. Its upgrade to Leap (now Leap2) is another step forward. Recall that D-Wave currently has a 2000-qubit system (quantum annealing, not gate-based) and has promised a 5000-qubit machine, named Advantage, in 2020. Last year D-Wave sketched out a rough 18-month technology roadmap including software and hardware advances.

The new Leap2 includes:

  • Hybrid solver service:The hybrid solver service is a managed cloud-based service allowing users to easily solve large and complex problems of up to 10,000 variables. The hybrid solver automatically runs problems on a collection of quantum and classical cloud resources, using D-Wave’s advanced algorithms to decide the best way to solve a problem.
  • Integrated Developer Environment (IDE): The IDE is a prebuilt, ready-to-code environment in the cloud for quantum hybrid Python development. The Leap IDE has the latest Ocean SDK set up and configured, and includes the new D-Wave problem inspector and Python debugging tools. Seamless GitHub integration means that developers can easily access the latest examples and contribute to the Ocean tools from within the IDE.
  • Problem inspector: The problem inspector allows more advanced quantum developers to visually see how their problems map onto the quantum processing unit (QPU). By showing the logical and embedded structure of a problem, the inspector displays the solutions returned from the QPU and provides alerts that allow developers to improve their results.
  • Flexible access:New to Leap 2 are hybrid offerings with price plans for all skill and investment levels, allowing access to even more flexible increments of computing time across quantum and classical systems. Users will continue to benefit from both paid and free, real-time access to a D-Wave 2000Q quantum computer to submit and run applications.

Commenting on Leap2 in the official release, CEO Alan Baratz said, “With Leap, we opened the door to real-time quantum access. With Leap 2, we’re giving developers and businesses the key to business applications. By delivering a hybrid offering, we’re removing many of the barriers related to complexity and problem size. Developers and enterprise leaders need the tools and support to turn their ideas and innovations into quantum applications that have a real impact on their business. You can’t capture new revenue or solve the most difficult problems facing your industry if you don’t have the ability to quickly ideate, build, and deploy quantum applications. Leap 2 bridges that gap for the first time.”

How close we are to running practical applications is an interesting question. Most observers agree it will be many years before we have fault-tolerant universal quantum computers. That said a lot of significant progress has been made. Many think that pairing a quantum annealer computer or a so-called NISQ (noisy intermediate scale quantum) gate-based computer to a specific problem well-suited for its architecture may produce quantum advantage for a particular application sooner, perhaps in just a couple of years.

Recently, HPCwire interviewed Raphael Pooser, who leads the Quantum Computing Testbed project at ORNL. The discussion covered not only on the testbed project – “Our goal is to benchmark every quantum computer that we can get our hands on” – but also QC progress generally and also quantum communication. He provides insight on near and long-term progress and opportunities for quantum. HPCwire will publish that interview soon.

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