Why quantum ‘utility’ should replace quantum advantage – TechCrunch

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As the quantum computing industry continues to move forward, so do the goal posts.

A long-sought goal was to achieve quantum “supremacy” – demonstrating that a quantum computer could solve a computation that no traditional computer on Earth could do – without requiring practical advantage.

Google claimed to achieve this goal with its scientific reference article in 2019, but IBM notably expressed its skepticism. In any case, it was a computer exercise that had no practical relevance in the real world.

Since Google’s announcement, the industry has stepped up efforts to achieve a quantum “advantage,” defined as obtaining a business or scientific advantage by exceeding the computational capacity of larger supercomputers in a relevant application.

As a point of reference for comparison and benchmarking, it was certainly more useful than quantum supremacy. The quantum advantage is often tied to making major breakthroughs in drug discovery, financial trading, or battery development.

However, the quantum advantage ignores an important point: should we really wait for golden quantum steampunk chandeliers of one million qubits to outperform supercomputers before considering quantum computers to be significant? Or should we focus on measuring performance improvements over the hardware units that we use in today’s conventional computers, for example, individual processors (central processing units), GPUs (processing units)? graphics processing) and FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays)?

Because what may be a more valuable goal for this still nascent industry is to achieve quantum “utility,” or utility, as soon as possible. Quantum utility is defined as a quantum system outperforming conventional processors of comparable size, weight, and power in similar environments.

Speed ​​up marketing

Those who have taken an in-depth look at quantum computing know the massive impact it will have on computing, business, economy, and society. A future of quantum supercomputing mainframes with exponential acceleration, error-correcting qubits, and a quantum internet will be a very different world than the one we live in today.

That said, like classic mainframes of the 1960s, quantum mainframes are likely to remain large, fragile machines for the foreseeable future, requiring ultra-low temperatures and complex control systems to operate. Even when fully operational, there will only be a few quantum mainframes located in supercomputing and cloud computing facilities around the world.

The quantum computing industry had better emulate the success of classical computers. When personal computers arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s, IBM and others were able to bring new models to market each year that offered incremental improvements over previous models. This market dynamic is at the origin of Moore’s Law.

Quantum computing needs similar market dynamics to evolve and thrive. Investors cannot be expected to keep giving away money while they wait for quantum computers to outperform the few supercomputers. An annual release of new, improved and ever more “useful” quantum computers will provide assurance of income that will drive the long-term investment required to reach the full potential of the technology.

With an endless supply of quantum systems useful for a variety of applications, there is no reason to queue up to process a computation on one of the few massive quantum mainframes available in the cloud when you can have a quantum processor. right next to you, integrated with your existing classic systems. Your application may require instant computation that “quantum in the cloud” cannot deliver on time, or you may have to rely on on-premises or on-board compute if there is no cloud access possible.

By expanding the idea of ​​quantum utility, you can imagine the following scenarios:

  • Signal and image processing in autonomous and intelligent technologies at the edge of the network in robots, driverless vehicles and satellites.
  • Industry 4.0 endpoint applications such as digital twins in manufacturing facilities.
  • Distributed network applications such as defending battlefield situations.
  • Classic computer accessories, providing a boost when needed for laptops and other common devices.

Quantum computing at room temperature in small form factors will be required to realize these quantum “accelerator” applications over the next few years. Several approaches are underway, but the most promising is to use nitrogen vacancies in diamonds to make qubits.

Enabling Technologies

Room temperature diamond quantum computing works by taking advantage of a set of processor nodes each composed of a nitrogen vacancy (NV) center, or defects in the ultra-pure diamond lattice, as well as of a group of nuclear spins. Nuclear spins act like computer qubits, while NV centers act like quantum buses that mediate operations between qubits and their input / output.

The main reason that diamond quantum computers can operate at room temperature is that ultra-hard diamond serves as a kind of quantum mechanical dead space where qubits survive for a few hundred microseconds.

Quantum scientists at the University of Stuttgart in Germany have pioneered many achievements in quantum computing of diamond in algorithms, simulations, error correction and high-fidelity operations. However, they ran into a stumbling block when trying to scale systems past a handful of qubits due to challenges with the performance and accuracy of qubit fabrication.

Since then, Australian quantum scientists have found a way to solve the problems of scaling, as well as miniaturization and integration of the electrical, optical and magnetic control systems of diamond quantum computers. Their work will increase the numbers of qubits while simultaneously reducing the size, weight and power of diamond quantum systems.

Scientists further demonstrated that compact and robust quantum accelerators are possible for mobile applications in robotics, autonomous systems and satellites, as well as massively parallelized applications to simulate molecular dynamics in drug design, chemical synthesis, energy storage and nanotechnology.

Due to the unique advantages of diamond-based computing, there is currently an ongoing global research effort involving leading academic institutions such as the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. The Australian National University’s diamond-based quantum computing research has entered an initial phase of commercialization.

Other types of quantum computing technology operating at room temperature in relatively small form factors are also advancing, including trapped ion and cold atom quantum computers. However, these come with requirements for vacuum systems and / or precision laser systems. A quantum computing startup has successfully developed a trapped ion system that fits in two server racks. However, it is not certain that these types of systems can be further miniaturized.

Recalibrate the assumptions

For industry to realize the vision of quantum accelerators that provide quantum utility, the technology must be compatible with scalable semiconductor manufacturing processes, where qubits are formed and integrated into robust control systems requiring little input. ‘maintenance and having a long operational life. As classical computers have shown us, the best way to do this is to miniaturize and develop integrated quantum chips.

Similar to the first transistors at the dawn of ubiquitous classical computing in the 1960s, the main technical challenge to achieving widespread quantum utility will be the fabrication of integrated quantum chips. However, like traditional computing, once this manufacturing is done, the devices can be simple to use and deploy.

While the first useful quantum systems have considerably fewer qubits than quantum mainframe computers, they can become a focal point of industry and potential markets once the first integrated chips are manufactured.

The downstream implications are almost unimaginable – there may not be an area where a quantum system at room temperature habit make a fundamental change in the way we solve problems. There is a clear message here for all product designers, software developers, market forecasters, and social watchers: Now is the time to get started with quantum computing.

In the short term, useful quantum computers will massively disrupt supply chains, and even entire value chains. Preparing for this impact involves understanding not only the technology, but also its economic impact. And of course, there are incredible opportunities to invest in technology that is evolving so rapidly.

Quantum utility also means that the future of quantum can be heterogeneous: accelerators can coexist with mainframes and be deployed for different reasons and applications. This will encourage a wave of cooperation as opposed to direct competition – and accelerate innovation and adoption in the quantum industry.


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