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DARPA's plan to jump-start quantum computing

With practical quantum computing years away, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to get a jump on solving optimization problems by combining classical computing systems with intermediate-sized quantum devices. 

DARPA's Optimization with Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum devices (ONISQ) program aims to develop and evaluate a hybrid quantum/classical algorithm on noisy, intermediate-scale quantum devices of between a few hundred and a few thousand qubits. Unlike fault-tolerant computing where errors are corrected, NISQ technology operates in an environment where slight changes to temperature or magnetic fields (or noise) can quickly degrade the quantum information.

Rather than providing exact solutions typically available from fault-tolerant computing, these conditions allow for approximate solutions for combinatorial optimization problems, such as devising the shortest possible route a traveling salesman can take to visit several cities and return home.    

Solving combinatorial optimization problems would have a significant benefit to the military. The technology could "enhance the military’s complex worldwide logistics system, which includes scheduling, routing, and supply chain management in austere locations that lack the infrastructure on which commercial logistics companies depend," DAPRA officials said. These solutions could also contribute to advances in machine-learning, coding theory, electronic fabrication and protein-folding.

ONISQ calls on researchers to identify classes of combinatorial optimization problems where quantum information processing is likely to have the biggest impact. Working with algorithms on noisy intermediate-scale quantum devices, researchers will also be comparing quantum and classical approaches to a given problem and demonstrate an increase in processing speed.

To meet the goals of ONISQ, DARPA expects current quantum hardware will need to be scaled up to hundreds or thousands of qubits with longer coherence times and improved noise control.

A proposers day will be held March 19. Read the full announcement here.

In related news, D-Wave announced its latest quantum platform includes the Pegasus topology that  connects each qubit to 15 other qubits, enabling the embedding of larger problems with fewer physical qubits. The next-gen system also features 5,000 qubits, increased qubit coherence, lower noise as well as hybrid software and tools and cloud access.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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