The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is betting on Microsoft’s long-term effort to create an industrial-scale quantum computer that takes advantage of the special properties of superconducting nanowires.
Microsoft was one of three companies selected to present design concepts as part of a five-year program known as Underexplored Systems for Utility-Scale Quantum Computing (US2QC). The DARPA program is just the latest example of how government support is a force pushing the frontiers of quantum computing forward.
Joe Altepeter, US2QC Program Manager, DARPA Defense Science Agency, said in a news release: “US2QC’s goal is to reduce the danger of strategic surprise from untapped quantum computing systems.”
Altepeter said DARPA has asked companies to get in touch if they have an approach that they believe will lead to the creation of a useful general-purpose quantum computer in the next decade. “We propose to fund additional experts to join the team and work together by providing rigorous verification and verification by the government to determine the viability of the proposed solution. I did,” he said.
The results could be “win-win,” Artepieter said. Corporate commercial technology will be boosted, while the federal government’s national security community will be able to “avoid being surprised” by potentially devastating effects.
Another company joining Microsoft in the US2QC program is Atom Computing, which is working to harness the quantum properties of optically trapped atoms. and PsiQuantum, which explores the capabilities of silicon-based photonics. Both companies are based in California.
During the early stages of the program, each company presents a design concept that describes their plans to create a practical-scale quantum computer. These concepts will guide the development of a more rigorous, full-scale system design that will be evaluated by a DARPA-led testing and validation team.
Quantum exploration involves a dramatically different approach to computing than the traditional electronic world of 1s and 0s. A qubit (qubit) can represent multiple values at the same time until the result is read out. This makes quantum computing potentially powerful for certain types of problems, such as sifting through large datasets to find the best solution.
Applications might include creating new chemicals for better batteries, more effective fertilizers, or new types of medicines. Beyond chemistry, quantum computing can optimize systems ranging from transportation routes and interplanetary communication networks to financial services.
But what is the best hardware for quantum computing? Microsoft has been exploring the potential of topological qubit architectures for more than a decade. Significant progress in that effort was reported last year when they discovered evidence of an exotic phenomenon known as the Majorana Zero Mode.
Quantum computers based on Microsoft’s architecture work by inducing and manipulating Majorana zero modes at the ends of topological superconducting wires. Demonstrating that such a mode actually exists was a big step towards bringing Microsoft’s concept to life.
Microsoft estimates that a quantum computer will need at least one million physical qubits to solve the kinds of problems that classical computers cannot handle. If these physical qubits aren’t the right size, the hardware needed “could be the size of a football field,” Krysta Svore, Microsoft’s vice president of advanced quantum development, told Northwest Quantum last week. Mentioned at the Nexus Summit.
“So at Microsoft, we’ve been focusing on qubits that are just right, which are topological qubits,” Svore said.
Last year’s findings boosted confidence in Microsoft’s approach, but much more research and development will be needed to create a full-stack topological quantum computer. “You need just the right qubit and you need a system around it,” Svore said. “You have to integrate within a larger cloud, right? You have to integrate a huge amount of classical computation. … At the same time, you also have to design and co-design software and hardware together.”
national security concerns
There are several reasons why the federal government is interested in quantum computing.
“The number one goal of the United States is to advance this technology,” Charles Tahan, director of the National Quantum Coordination Office at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at a summit last week. “We must maintain our leadership in quantum information technology. [with] our international partners. ”
Other goals relate to national security. “The one we saw most in the news was moving the country to quantum-safe cryptography,” Tahan said.
In theory, quantum computers could solve the challenges associated with factoring large numbers, a branch of mathematics that plays an important role in secure online communication and financial transactions. “Fault-tolerant quantum computers are possible, so if you have such a machine, you can break RSA and other forms of public-key cryptography,” Tahan said. “Given the scale of how a nation has to protect information for 25 years, or even 50 years for him, it is very important to move to quantum-safe cryptography now.”
Protecting information from quantum cryptanalysis is the flip side of understanding how quantum computers work. In the meantime, the federal government must protect U.S. technology from being stolen by global rivals, Tahan said.
“If done right, it will take more than a decade to transition to quantum-safe cryptography,” he said. “While doing so, we need to protect our investments for both economic and national security.”
China is the biggest rival. Last month, a Chinese researcher caused controversy by reporting that he had found a way to crack his RSA algorithm, which underlies most data encryption schemes. An outside expert said the resulting concerns were exaggerated. Nevertheless, reports showed just how serious the stakes could be.
Peter Chapman, CEO of the IonQ quantum computer company, viewed China’s claims as “a shot beyond the bow.”
“It just shows that when someone comes up with a new idea, it can suddenly become dangerous,” Chapman said at last week’s summit. “So it has to be taken much more seriously than it is now.”
Chapman said securing U.S. leadership in quantum exploration will require federal support and private investment. IonQ and Pacific His collaboration with the Northwest National Laboratory has developed a new method to generate barium ions for future quantum computers. The process will become part of IonQ’s chain of commercial supplies as early as next year when it begins operations at its research and manufacturing facility in Bothell, Washington.
“The way to win in a place like China is a public-private partnership, and the public side needs to be able to encourage the private side to invest in it. “There are companies like Fairchild who are very active in developing integrated circuits, and NASA provided an early market for them,” Chapman said. “Of course, that was what drove us to be able to invest in that particular technology. The rest is history, so to speak.”
So far, as tech companies push the quantum information superhighway, the public sector has “done a really good job at making sure the headlights are on,” said global business development and markets. Sebastian Hassinger, who is in charge of entry strategy, said. Quantum Computing at Amazon Web Services.
“Essentially, it is not something that can be left to the private market,” Hassinger told GeekWire. “You can see how few venture funds are investing in quantum. It’s hard to do….It will take him less than three years to finish.”