D-Wave Systems Inc., the world’s first quantum computing company, announced details of its most advanced quantum computing system, featuring a new 2000-qubit processor. The announcement is being made at the company’s inaugural users group conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The new processor doubles the number of qubits over the previous generation D-Wave 2X™ system, enabling larger problems to be solved and extending D-Wave’s significant lead over all quantum computing competitors. The new system also introduces control features that allow users to tune the quantum computational process to solve problems faster and find more diverse solutions when they exist. In early tests these new features have yielded performance improvements of up to 1000 times over the D-Wave 2X system.
D-Wave’s quantum system runs a quantum annealing algorithm to find the lowest points in a virtual energy landscape representing a computational problem to be solved. The lowest points in the landscape correspond to optimal or near-optimal solutions to the problem. The increase in qubit count enables larger and more difficult problems to be solved. The new control features enable the system to find the lowest points more efficiently, and include:
The ability to tune the rate of annealing of individual qubits to enhance application performance;
The ability to sample the state of the quantum computer during the quantum annealing process to power hybrid quantum-classical machine learning algorithms that were not possible before;
The ability to combine quantum processing with classical processing to improve the quality of both optimization and sampling results returned from the system.
“As the only company to have developed and commercialized a scalable quantum computer, we’re continuing our record of rapid increases in the power of our systems, now up to 2000 qubits. Our growing user base provides real world experience that helps us design features and capabilities that provide quantifiable benefits,” said Jeremy Hilton, senior vice president, Systems at D-Wave. “A good example of this is giving users the ability to tune the quantum algorithm to improve application performance.”
“Our focus is on delivering quantum technology for customers in the real world,” said Vern Brownell, D-Wave’s CEO. “As we scale our processors, we’re adding features and capabilities that give users new ways to solve problems. These new features can enable machine learning applications that we believe are not available on classical systems. We are also developing software tools and training the first generation of quantum programmers, which will push forward the development of practical commercial applications for quantum systems.”
D-Wave’s first users conference is being held on September 28-29 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The conference features speakers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA, Lockheed Martin, the Roswell Park Cancer Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USC and D-Wave, as well as a number of quantum software and services companies.
Los Alamos explains Dwave Quantum Computers and the research and where it is beneficial for finding solutions
“Quantum computers have long been on the horizon as conventional computing technologies approach their physical limits. While general-purpose quantum computers remain on the horizon for the time being, a special kind of quantum computer already exists and could be a game changer for simulation and computing tools in support of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission of stockpile stewardship without nuclear testing. It may also enable a slew of broader national security and computer science applications. But first, it will undoubtedly draw a vibrant community of top creative thinkers in many scientific fields to Los Alamos.”
Solving an optimization problem with the 2X isn’t remotely like making a spreadsheet on a conventional computer. “You wouldn’t want to use it to balance your checkbook,” explains John Sarrao, the Laboratory’s Associate Director of Theory, Simulation and Computation. “If you need to get an exact answer, then any beyond-Moore’s-Law technology is going to be a poor choice. But if quick and close is good, then D-Wave is the one.” That’s because it doesn’t necessarily give a precise right answer, it gives a very good answer. And with repeated query, the confidence in that answer grows.
The question has to be framed as an energy minimization problem, so that the answer will exist in the low spots of an energy landscape. Imagine a golf course with hills and dips and occasional holes, and the goal is to get a ball into the hole whose bottom sits closest to the center of the earth. A classical computer has to drop a few balls and hope that one rolls into one of the deeper holes. With the 2X, the balls can explore all the holes at once and can even burrow underground from one hole to a deeper hole, as long as those holes aren’t too far apart (this action is called tunneling and is yet another curiosity of quantum mechanics).
Each question demands its own custom golf course, which the scientist using the machine must construct through biasing and entangling the qubits. This is basically how the quantum computer is programmed. Biases are achieved with magnetic fields applied to individual qubits, and entanglement is done with devices called couplers, which are superconducting loops. The couplers work by lowering the energy of the preferred state in comparison to the alternative, increasing the likelihood that the qubit will take the preferred state. The scientist chooses a whole set of “same” and “opposite” couplings between the qubits to build a unique energy landscape, for which the annealing process finds the lowest energy required to form those relationships. The more complicated the landscape, the more likely quantum annealing is to find an answer more accurate answer than conventional optimization would provide. The control circuitry for creating the energy landscape—for standardizing the qubits, creating interactions between qubits, turning quantum effects on and off, and reading out the final answer—take up most of the processor chip and most of the user’s time. While the computation itself is lightning quick, setting up the problem takes a lot of time.
Right now it takes many hours of planning to run a millisecond experiment, but the more the scientists work with it, the better they’ll get at the planning, and the more use the machine will get.
Los Alamos and other entities with D-Wave systems in residence (the Los Alamos machine is the third D-Wave machine to be sited outside D-Wave headquarters) aren’t customers so much as they are collaborators. No one really knows everything the machine can do, and the best way to find out is to get it into the hands of a bunch of scientists.
IDC coverage of Quantum Computing and Dwave
IDC believes the growing research momentum behind quantum computing R and D is a strong indication that this revolutionary approach to problem-solving is not just a passing phenomenon and will have an important impact on the future of the computing industry. Moore’s law–related progress in classic computing technology has already slowed, but sustained performance for most scientific-technical computing problems will continue to advance, thanks especially to greater exploitation of parallelism and complementing CPUs with processing elements adept at data-level parallelism. Even so, classic computers are not the right tools for tackling certain classes of problems that are important scientifically and economically. IDC believes that quantum computing is likely to mature to the point where it joins classic computing as a differentiated approach that provides substantially faster, more cost-effective performance for these problem classes.
D-Wave Systems is the only company that offers a real-world quantum computing product today. D-Wave has sold copies of this computer to a small, growing number of high-profile organizations, giving the company a substantial lead in this early market. D-Wave is well positioned to maintain and perhaps extend this lead by following its plan to increase the capabilities of the D-Wave quantum annealing computers and, in the future, by being the first to develop products that broaden the applicability of quantum computers beyond annealing. In the meantime, the company should continue working to identify one or more “killer applications” for its quantum annealer while addressing critics by describing the realities of building a quantum computer today and the long, arduous path to extend quantum computing capabilities past annealing.