Google, XPRIZE Launch $5M Quantum Application Challenge

By John Russell

March 4, 2024

Google Quantum AI, the XPRIZE Foundation, and the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) Foundation have announced a 3-year, $5 million global competition to generate quantum computing (QC) algorithms and applications that can be put into practice to help solve real-world challenges.

Google director Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink and Ryan Babbush, Head of Quantum Algorithms, Google Quantum AI, have written a post on the launch, “The competition, which kicks off today, aims to generate quantum computing algorithms that can be put into practice (today or in the future) to help achieve societally beneficial goals, like those described by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The competition is closely aligned with Google Quantum AI’s focus on building a large-scale, error corrected quantum computer, and developing useful quantum computing applications, and it builds on Google.org’s support for applying emerging technology to large, global challenges — especially as related to the SDGs.

No doubt the latest XPRIZE will generate excitement in the expanding quantum technology supplier and early user/explorer community. Two years into the competition, XPRIZE will assess all whitepaper submissions and distribute Milestone Prizes from $1 million to up to 20 semi-finalist winners. “After 36 months, judges will select the Competition winners: $3 million split among up to three Grand Prize Winner(s); $1 million split between two and five Finals Runners-up (at the discretion of the judges; e.g., if two Finals Runners-up selected then each would receive $500k).” (More details below from the draft guidelines)

XPRIZE organizers note quantum computing’s current shortcomings and the need for work on developing applications — “Currently, quantum computers are not sufficiently advanced enough to solve real-world societal problems that classical computers cannot. However, as the technology advances, relatively few companies and university researchers are focused on translating quantum algorithms into real-world application scenarios and assessing their feasibility to address global challenges once sufficiently powerful hardware is available.”

That said, organizers have high hopes: XPRIZE Quantum Applications has the potential to transform how we tackle some of the largest problems humanity faces  — a testament to XPRIZE’s dedication to pioneering and impactful innovation. This prize brings together XPRIZE’s expertise in designing, launching and executing large-scale competitions, Google Quantum AI’s extensive knowledge and leadership in advancing quantum computing, and GESDA’s global perspective and ability to convene policymakers and experts to create change. Together, our goal is to nurture the growth of an ethical and forward-looking quantum ecosystem.”

Gosselink and Babbush, write, Gosselink and Ryan Babyish, “While there are many reasons to be optimistic about the potential of quantum computing, we’re still somewhat in the dark about the full scope of how, when, and for which real-world problems this technology will prove most transformative. We hope launching this prize will help to shed light on these questions — by incentivizing the community to advance and more thoroughly anticipate the positive impact of quantum computing on society.

“XPRIZE Quantum Applications will address both near-term applications for today’s Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) processors (which do not yet exist), and applications for large scale, fault tolerant quantum computers of the future. While we believe there are useful applications to be discovered in the NISQ era, most of quantum computing’s impact will come once we’ve built large-scale quantum computers — and we can identify those applications now, so we have them ready to deploy as we build more capable hardware.”

XPRIZE organizers cite the following examples: enhancing the drug discovery process by enabling more accurate predictions of how drug candidates interact with proteins in the human body; making simulations of electrical grid loads more efficient by improving the way we model inductors and capacitors in differential equations; reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency by helping us better model materials and molecules, such as those in batteries or fusion reactors.

Indeed there are already efforts in all of those areas, for example Atom Computing (neutral atoms-based) has a project with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab exploring electrical grid management.

Here’s an excerpt from draft guidelines:

“To realize the transformational potential of quantum, it is necessary to advance the state-of-the-art in quantum algorithms, to scientifically evaluate the benefit that quantum algorithms offer to real-world problems, and to carefully quantify the quantum hardware requirements needed to realize these benefits. XPRIZE Quantum Applications, sponsored by Google Quantum AI, aims to accelerate this process through a quantum applications competition directed towards use cases in sustainability and societal good. Over two competition phases, teams will merge quantum and domain expertise to ideate quantum applications that might impact such real-world problems.

“The winning submissions will most accelerate the field of quantum algorithms towards quantum advantage for positive real-world applications. In determining this, our judging panel will weigh a number of factors including most prominently:

“A. The projected magnitude of positive real-world impact that would result from quantum advantage in the proposed application area(s).

“B. The estimated quantum resources required for quantum advantage (i.e., how nearterm?).

“C. The strength of the evidence supporting claims for (A) and (B).

“D. The novelty of the submission (i.e., magnitude of the “thought delta” introduced).

“We expect that competitive submissions will make at least one of the following types of contributions (we also give a few examples from the last five years; however, note that these examples are not in any way an expression of preferred areas of focus):

“1. A new quantum algorithm for solving a new class of problems with quantum advantage. Example: quartic quantum speedup for tensor principal component analysis (arXiv:1907.12724). Submission would be incomplete without suggesting a target real-world application and submission would be much stronger with some estimated resources for quantum advantage. Still, significant points for novelty.

“2. Work showing how existing quantum algorithms can be used to solve previously unknown applications with a quantum advantage. Example 1: using quantum linear system solvers or Hamiltonian simulation to give super-quadratic speedup in simulating classical waves (arXiv:1711.05394) or coupled harmonic systems (arXiv:2303.13012). Submissions would be stronger with some estimated resources for quantum advantage in real-world applications. Example 2: using quantum simulation to better design fusion reactors (arXiv:2308.12352). Weakness is that quantum simulation applications are not especially hard to find and resources required for advantage are still fairly high.

“3. Work significantly reducing the resources required for a quantum computer to reach quantum advantage for an already established algorithm/application. Example 1: improved chemistry algorithms (arXiv:2011.03494) with application to simulating the FeMoCo nitrogen fixation catalyst. Submission would be stronger if the magnitude of the resource reduction and thought delta were larger. Example 2: improved algorithms for topological data analysis (arXiv:2209.13581 and arXiv:2209.12887). A significant weakness is that neither paper identifies real-world occurrences of the problem where quantum advantage is viable.”

According to the draft guidelines, the $5M prize purse will be distributed as follows:

“After 24 months of competition, the judges will review all whitepaper submissions and equally distribute Milestone Prizes from $1 million to up to 20 semi-finalist winners. At the discretion of the judges, these awards may be granted on a conditional basis, subject to the team’s demonstrated commitment to continuing to develop and advance their solutions and to compete for the Grand Prize. Teams that do not receive or do not compete for Milestone Prizes may still be eligible to compete for the Grand Prizes, at the discretion of the judges.

“After 36 months, judges will select the Competition winners:

  • 3 million split among up to three Grand Prize Winner(s)
  • $1 million split between two and five Finals Runner-ups (at the discretion of the judges; e.g., if two Finals Runner-ups selected then each would receive$ $500k).”

Link to XPRIZE Quantum, https://www.xprize.org/prizes/qc-apps

Link to preliminary guidelines, https://assets-us-01.kc-usercontent.com/5cb25086-82d2-4c89-94f0-8450813a0fd3/be438f12-70ca-42e6-a381-30ffb52031c2/XPRIZE%20Quantum%20Applications%20Preliminary%20Guidelines_V.01.pdf

Link to Google blog, https://blog.google/technology/research/google-gesda-and-xprize-launch-new-competition-in-quantum-applications/

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