Q&A Part Two: ORNL’s Pooser on Progress in Quantum Communication

By John Russell

March 30, 2020

Quantum computing seems to get more than its fair share of attention compared to quantum communication. That’s despite the fact that quantum networking may be nearer to becoming a practical reality. In this second installment of HPCwire’s interview with Raphael Pooser, PI for DoE’s Quantum Testbed Pathfinder project and a member of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Quantum Information Science group, he discusses the state of quantum communication research.

Pooser notes, for example that the lack of robust quantum repeaters remains an obstacle to creating a quantum internet while the use of quantum key distribution (QKD[i]) to secure communications is already in limited use both in government and industry. He also emphasizes, at least in theory, it is possible to create an unhackable quantum communication network, just not easy to do. Pooser also offers some thoughts on the quantum hype cycle – it’s not all bad, he says, and most companies have a realistic view of quantum’s likely timetable.

HPCwire: I know there’s been a lot of work in quantum communications to make it more robust and cover longer distance. What’s happening in that area?

Raphael Pooser, ORNL

Raphael Pooser: That’s actually a big area of research in our quantum information science group. We have three teams – communication, sensing, and computing. We found a lot of companies want to hear about quantum communications because they’re quite concerned with cyber security. At Oak Ridge we’ve even licensed products to startup companies that are specifically based around quantum cyber security. Quantum random number generators, for example, that we’ve licensed to a start-up so that they can build quantum communication devices are based on the security of physics rather than [classical] computational complexity.

Not a lot of people know quantum communication is a big area of interest to the US electric grid. So again, back to DoE, but not the science arm of DOE, but the power and the energy science side of DOE which is required to protect the electric grid. DoE is funding a lot of research at various national labs, [such as] Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Brookhaven to study how to secure the grid with quantum key distribution (QKD). A lot of companies ask us about QKD. It’s one of the things, for example, Kaiser is interested in and I’ll talk about that next tomorrow as well [when I visit there].

HPCwire: What makes quantum communications secure? There seem to be conflicting claims about what quantum communications can and can’t do with regard to cyber-cryptography?

Raphael Pooser: There are limitations and maybe what you you’re picking up on are ways that people are hacking quantum key distribution. Quantum key distribution or quantum communication generally first came out a long time ago. One of the most popular schemes was invented in 1984 for example. Since then people have been trying to hack it because the original claim was it isn’t hackable. The key point is that it is unhackable by your traditional classical means. You can’t do things like intercepting, resend, man-in-the-middle eaves dropping, or cracking a code because there’s no code to crack. But people resorted to interesting new ideas for hacking, basically physics-based hacking. Now people attack the physics of these systems and are trying to discover ways to steal the secret keys by making those physics-based assumptions upon which the security is based untrue. It’s a whole different type of hacking. There have been a few successful demonstrations of bona fide hacking of quantum key distribution systems using physics based approaches.

The good news is there are unconditionally secure quantum key distribution, quantum communication schemes out there. The thing to know about why some implementations may not be absolutely secure under all conditions is because they relax some of the physics assumptions that go into them when they build them so that they can make a more practically buildable system. Some of the systems that have the true, fully unconditional security based on the physics are more difficult to build. They’ve been built though in the laboratory and demonstrated in the laboratory. So you really can build unconditionally secure systems. It’s just that they’re a bit harder.

HPCwire: Is quantum communication closer to practical reality and wide-spread use than quantum computing?

Raphael Pooser: That’s a very interesting question. In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. Here’s what I mean by that. If you have a quantum communications network that is regional, you know, it’s not very long range, then absolutely it’s useful and you can look around and see various quantum communication networks actually operating right now. [Think] secured voting results. You’ve probably heard of this example in Vienna, they secured voting results by sending the results using quantum communications down the street from the polling station to the Capitol building. And banks use it already. You can see quantum communication used in quite a few places.

Now, if you’re thinking about things like really widespread quantum communication, like a quantum internet, where you have a nationwide network of quantum communication from coast to coast, that is probably as far off as fault-tolerant quantum computing. So there’s different levels of usability. You can network quantum mechanically right now on a regional scale fairly well. But a national scale internet level networking is very far off and it’s because of the key requirement called a quantum repeater, right? That doesn’t get doesn’t exist yet.

HPCwire: I saw a recent report by researchers in China who were using atomic ensembles as a base for repeaters. They reported getting more predictable results and getting better distance, around 50 miles, and it looked promising as a potential technology for use as quantum repeaters.

Raphael Pooser: What’s interesting about this result is they’re using a quantum memory. When you talk about an ensemble of atoms, you’re thinking about using them as a quantum memory. You couple the photons, the quantum information for the photons, into the atoms and then you couple the quantum information back from the atoms when you’re ready to proceed with the repeater operations. What’s interesting is integrating that [kind of quantum memory] into a quantum communications system. The distance of 50 miles itself is not quite so impressive. It doesn’t exceed any current record for repeater-less communication. The next step would be to incorporate a repeater, the memory-based repeater, into a system that goes a longer distance than you currently could do without a repeater.

So there’s two steps here. What they’ve done is step one which is to integrate this quantum memory system into their communication system. They demonstrated the functionality, but not the distance. The next step is to show that it actually works to get you a longer distance because that’s what bridges the coasts in a quantum network; it is the quantum repeater. There’s a lot of work on repeaters right now in the U.S. as well [as China]. There’s a lot of quantum memory work going on especially within DOE [including] memory-based repeater work at Brookhaven. At Oak Ridge we are working on what we call memory-less repeaters. Those are repeaters that don’t require coupling into and out of atoms. Those are all optical devices.

HPCwire: Isn’t signal loss still a problem there?

Raphael Pooser: It’s a problem with every repeater including the memory ensembles because what’s important is how much quantum information you can get in and out. When you have lots of loss one of the things you can do is try to correct for it using quantum error correction inside the repeater. Another way is to try to distill out a very nice high-quality quantum state that can still be used as a resource for communication. Those two are definitely paths forward to trying to help correct for this information loss.

HPCwire: Will you present next week at the APS meeting? [This meeting was eventually cancelled as result of the COVID-19 pandemic]

Raphael Pooser: Not personally, but many of my team will be there. I’m actually on my way right now to a conference on the West Coast at Kaiser Permanente (health care). They want to know about quantum computing and I’m on my way to talk to them about just the general idea of quantum technology and what it could be good for us more, more outward.

A rendering of IBM Q System One, the world’s first fully integrated universal quantum computing system, currently installed at the Thomas J Watson Research Center. Source: IBM

HPCwire: Isn’t a bit early still for real applications. What are your thoughts on controlling the hype, which seems everywhere. It still seems like it will be a long time before Kaiser Permanente is going to be able to use quantum computing.

Raphael Pooser: Maybe. It may be a long way off and there is a question of hype. I think that we are in a state of high hype. We are in a state of high-risk and-high reward research and it’s important for people to explain to the public that this is high risk research. It’s not a 100% done deal that quantum computing, especially of the fault-tolerant type, is going to solve most problems of interest and is around the corner.

I think the reason the hype is high is because there have been some key results in recent years that encouraged everyone. Folks like Kaiser, people from health care companies to oil companies and gasoline producers, are interested in quantum computing because they’ve seen these promising early results in areas like chemistry, nuclear physics, computational fluid dynamics, and also in in AI and machine learning. What I like about this hype cycle is it’s a substantive-driven hype cycle. In other words, it’s driven by real scientific results. It’s definitely possible that things are getting overhyped right now. But at the same time, these companies don’t want to miss out on understanding what’s going on. A lot of companies that are really active asking us what’s going on with quantum technology are coming in with their heads on straight. They are asking about quantum information science more generally and they don’t say what can I do tomorrow with it? They say, what does this mean for us in the future because we don’t want to lose the competitive edge, even if it’s 10 years out?

I’ll just say something else about these companies. They’re not just interested in quantum computing. There are some nearer term technologies they’re interested in and those are the technologies of quantum sensing, and potentially quantum networking, or quantum communications. Quantum computing is a big driver of their interest, but they want to hear about these other quantum technologies that are getting a lot less hype, but are potentially very impactful as well.

HPCwire: Thanks for your time.

[i](Brief QKD Backgrounder – Quantum key distribution is currently the main way to implement quantum-secured communications. In essence, a quantum system generates a random key to encode a message. The key is used to encrypt the message and the key is shared between parties in such a way that any attempt to discover the key – in physical terms, measure it – causes detectable changes so both parties immediately know a third party has tried to read the message. The latter would trigger a resend cycle involving use of a new key. Implementation schemes vary. Quantum cryptography is only used to produce and distribute a key, not to transmit any message data. Here are links to a few explanations: WikipediaWired, EC Quantum Flagship Project, and Physics.org.)

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

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

Supercomputing Helps Explain the Milky Way’s Shape

September 30, 2022

If you look at the Milky Way from “above,” it almost looks like a cat’s eye: a circle of spiral arms with an oval “iris” in the middle. That iris — a starry bar that connects the spiral arms — has two stran Read more…

Top Supercomputers to Shake Up Earthquake Modeling

September 29, 2022

Two DOE-funded projects — and a bunch of top supercomputers — are converging to improve our understanding of earthquakes and enable the construction of more earthquake-resilient buildings and infrastructure. The firs Read more…

How Intel Plans to Rebuild Its Manufacturing Supply Chain

September 29, 2022

Intel's engineering roots saw a revival at this week's Innovation, with attendees recalling the show’s resemblance to Intel Developer Forum, the company's annual developer gala last held in 2016. The chipmaker cut t Read more…

Intel Labs Launches Neuromorphic ‘Kapoho Point’ Board

September 28, 2022

Over the past five years, Intel has been iterating on its neuromorphic chips and systems, aiming to create devices (and software for those devices) that closely mimic the behavior of the human brain through the use of co Read more…

DOE Announces $42M ‘COOLERCHIPS’ Datacenter Cooling Program

September 28, 2022

With massive machines like Frontier guzzling tens of megawatts of power to operate, datacenters’ energy use is of increasing concern for supercomputer operations – and particularly for the U.S. Department of Energy ( Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Shutterstock 1818499862

Rearchitecting AWS Batch managed services to leverage AWS Fargate

AWS service teams continuously improve the underlying infrastructure and operations of managed services, and AWS Batch is no exception. The AWS Batch team recently moved most of their job scheduler fleet to a serverless infrastructure model leveraging AWS Fargate. Read more…

Microsoft/NVIDIA Solution Channel

Shutterstock 1166887495

Improving Insurance Fraud Detection using AI Running on Cloud-based GPU-Accelerated Systems

Insurance is a highly regulated industry that is evolving as the industry faces changing customer expectations, massive amounts of data, and increased regulations. A major issue facing the industry is tracking insurance fraud. Read more…

Do You Believe in Science? Take the HPC Covid Safety Pledge

September 28, 2022

ISC 2022 was back in person, and the celebration was on. Frontier had been named the first exascale supercomputer on the Top500 list, and workshops, poster sessions, paper presentations, receptions, and booth meetings we Read more…

How Intel Plans to Rebuild Its Manufacturing Supply Chain

September 29, 2022

Intel's engineering roots saw a revival at this week's Innovation, with attendees recalling the show’s resemblance to Intel Developer Forum, the company's ann Read more…

Intel Labs Launches Neuromorphic ‘Kapoho Point’ Board

September 28, 2022

Over the past five years, Intel has been iterating on its neuromorphic chips and systems, aiming to create devices (and software for those devices) that closely Read more…

HPE to Build 100+ Petaflops Shaheen III Supercomputer

September 27, 2022

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia has announced that HPE has won the bid to build the Shaheen III supercomputer. Sh Read more…

Intel’s New Programmable Chips Next Year to Replace Aging Products

September 27, 2022

Intel shared its latest roadmap of programmable chips, and doesn't want to dig itself into a hole by following AMD's strategy in the area.  "We're thankfully not matching their strategy," said Shannon Poulin, corporate vice president for the datacenter and AI group at Intel, in response to a question posed by HPCwire during a press briefing. The updated roadmap pieces together Intel's strategy for FPGAs... Read more…

Intel Ships Sapphire Rapids – to Its Cloud

September 27, 2022

Intel has had trouble getting its chips in the hands of customers on time, but is providing the next best thing – to try out those chips in the cloud. Delayed chips such as Sapphire Rapids server processors and Habana Gaudi 2 AI chip will be available on a platform called the Intel Developer Cloud, which was announced at the Intel Innovation event being held in San Jose, California. Read more…

More Details on ‘Half-Exaflop’ Horizon System, LCCF Emerge

September 26, 2022

Since 2017, plans for the Leadership-Class Computing Facility (LCCF) have been underway. Slated for full operation somewhere around 2026, the LCCF’s scope ext Read more…

Nvidia Shuts Out RISC-V Software Support for GPUs 

September 23, 2022

Nvidia is not interested in bringing software support to its GPUs for the RISC-V architecture despite being an early adopter of the open-source technology in its GPU controllers. Nvidia has no plans to add RISC-V support for CUDA, which is the proprietary GPU software platform, a company representative... Read more…

Nvidia Introduces New Ada Lovelace GPU Architecture, OVX Systems, Omniverse Cloud

September 20, 2022

In his GTC keynote today, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang launched another new Nvidia GPU architecture: Ada Lovelace, named for the legendary mathematician regarded as Read more…

Nvidia Shuts Out RISC-V Software Support for GPUs 

September 23, 2022

Nvidia is not interested in bringing software support to its GPUs for the RISC-V architecture despite being an early adopter of the open-source technology in its GPU controllers. Nvidia has no plans to add RISC-V support for CUDA, which is the proprietary GPU software platform, a company representative... Read more…

AWS Takes the Short and Long View of Quantum Computing

August 30, 2022

It is perhaps not surprising that the big cloud providers – a poor term really – have jumped into quantum computing. Amazon, Microsoft Azure, Google, and th Read more…

US Senate Passes CHIPS Act Temperature Check, but Challenges Linger

July 19, 2022

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a major hurdle that will open up close to $52 billion in grants for the semiconductor industry to boost manufacturing, supply chain and research and development. U.S. senators voted 64-34 in favor of advancing the CHIPS Act, which sets the stage for the final consideration... Read more…

Chinese Startup Biren Details BR100 GPU

August 22, 2022

Amid the high-performance GPU turf tussle between AMD and Nvidia (and soon, Intel), a new, China-based player is emerging: Biren Technology, founded in 2019 and headquartered in Shanghai. At Hot Chips 34, Biren co-founder and president Lingjie Xu and Biren CTO Mike Hong took the (virtual) stage to detail the company’s inaugural product: the Biren BR100 general-purpose GPU (GPGPU). “It is my honor to present... Read more…

Newly-Observed Higgs Mode Holds Promise in Quantum Computing

June 8, 2022

The first-ever appearance of a previously undetectable quantum excitation known as the axial Higgs mode – exciting in its own right – also holds promise for developing and manipulating higher temperature quantum materials... Read more…

AMD’s MI300 APUs to Power Exascale El Capitan Supercomputer

June 21, 2022

Additional details of the architecture of the exascale El Capitan supercomputer were disclosed today by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) Terri Read more…

Tesla Bulks Up Its GPU-Powered AI Super – Is Dojo Next?

August 16, 2022

Tesla has revealed that its biggest in-house AI supercomputer – which we wrote about last year – now has a total of 7,360 A100 GPUs, a nearly 28 percent uplift from its previous total of 5,760 GPUs. That’s enough GPU oomph for a top seven spot on the Top500, although the tech company best known for its electric vehicles has not publicly benchmarked the system. If it had, it would... Read more…

Exclusive Inside Look at First US Exascale Supercomputer

July 1, 2022

HPCwire takes you inside the Frontier datacenter at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for an interview with Frontier Project Direc Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

AMD Opens Up Chip Design to the Outside for Custom Future

June 15, 2022

AMD is getting personal with chips as it sets sail to make products more to the liking of its customers. The chipmaker detailed a modular chip future in which customers can mix and match non-AMD processors in a custom chip package. "We are focused on making it easier to implement chips with more flexibility," said Mark Papermaster, chief technology officer at AMD during the analyst day meeting late last week. Read more…

Nvidia, Intel to Power Atos-Built MareNostrum 5 Supercomputer

June 16, 2022

The long-troubled, hotly anticipated MareNostrum 5 supercomputer finally has a vendor: Atos, which will be supplying a system that includes both Nvidia and Inte Read more…

UCIe Consortium Incorporates, Nvidia and Alibaba Round Out Board

August 2, 2022

The Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe) consortium is moving ahead with its effort to standardize a universal interconnect at the package level. The c Read more…

Using Exascale Supercomputers to Make Clean Fusion Energy Possible

September 2, 2022

Fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the Sun and the stars, has incredible potential as a source of safe, carbon-free and essentially limitless energy. But Read more…

Is Time Running Out for Compromise on America COMPETES/USICA Act?

June 22, 2022

You may recall that efforts proposed in 2020 to remake the National Science Foundation (Endless Frontier Act) have since expanded and morphed into two gigantic bills, the America COMPETES Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the U.S. Senate. So far, efforts to reconcile the two pieces of legislation have snagged and recent reports... Read more…

Nvidia, Qualcomm Shine in MLPerf Inference; Intel’s Sapphire Rapids Makes an Appearance.

September 8, 2022

The steady maturation of MLCommons/MLPerf as an AI benchmarking tool was apparent in today’s release of MLPerf v2.1 Inference results. Twenty-one organization Read more…

India Launches Petascale ‘PARAM Ganga’ Supercomputer

March 8, 2022

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Indian government promised that it had five HPC systems in the final stages of installation and would launch nine new supercomputers this year. Now, it appears to be making good on that promise: the country’s National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) has announced the deployment of “PARAM Ganga” petascale supercomputer at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)... Read more…

Not Just Cash for Chips – The New Chips and Science Act Boosts NSF, DOE, NIST

August 3, 2022

After two-plus years of contentious debate, several different names, and final passage by the House (243-187) and Senate (64-33) last week, the Chips and Science Act will soon become law. Besides the $54.2 billion provided to boost US-based chip manufacturing, the act reshapes US science policy in meaningful ways. NSF’s proposed budget... Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire