Hyperion: Concerns over classical HPC trajectory helping drive quantum R&D – High Performance Computing News Analysis
Faced with tremendous complexities and uncertain progress, quantum computing continues to attract significant investment and R&D efforts from countries and companies around the world. One key reason: a “growing concern about the trajectory of classical HPC,” according to Bob Sorensen, senior vice president of research at the HPC industry analyst firm. Hyperion Researchwho took a “whirlwind tour” of quantum technology last week at an HPC user forum hosted by Hyperion in Washington.
“We’re starting to see ‘end of’ stories,” like the demise of Moore’s law and the Dennard scale, he said. There’s also the rising cost of building supercomputers with their associated astronomical power demands. It’s one reason, Sorensen said, that quantum computing development work is happening “at such an opportune time in the HPC world.”
That said, Sorensen expressed what has become a consensus view that the role of quantum technology will be to take on specialized workloads for which it is well-suited, augment classical HPC, not replace it.
“We don’t see quantum as this island of alternative computing power that can somehow challenge classical HPC,” he said. “We see quantum as yet another tool in the toolbox for solving difficult problems. In the world of advanced computing, it is perhaps another evolutionary step. Where we had things like multiprocessors, GPUs, MPIs, if you look at all that progress, then quantum technology is the next step in this evolution.”
Here is a summary of the insights offered by Sorensen backed by recent surveys conducted by Hyperion:
A shift from supremacy to advantage – Early enthusiasm for quantum centered on the notion of “quantum supremacy,” which Sorensen defined as “using a programmable quantum device to solve a problem that no classical computer can solve in a feasible amount of time.” This would include factoring a large number into its two prime integers.
But now the quantum community has narrowed down a bit and has focused on “quantum advantage,” or quantum competitive advantage, which Sorensen characterized with the question, “What can I do better (with quantum) than a classical system?” It has to be an intractable problem, but what if I give it a 50 or 20 percent performance boost, or what if it gives me a simple competitive advantage, I can do something my competitor can’t because I’m quantum capable and he doesn’t. It’s a much more realistic vision of what the world can be like.”
This includes optimization workloads already running using hybrid quantum/classical HPC techniques. Sorensen quoted Airbus as saying that he is currently one of the largest end users most interested in quantum technology.
“They are everywhere, they have programs, they are looking for every possible way to do things, from wing design to the ‘rucksack problem’: the best way to load luggage on the bottom of an Airbus plane that is in a terminal and you want to go around in 15 minutes. The quantum computer gives you an optimal algorithm for packing that thing up. Optimum space, minimum time, loading and unloading.”
The 3 main quantum sectors: Based on Hyperion surveys, Sorensen said the top three end-user sectors — sectors that see the most promise from quantum technology by 2025 — are financial services; R&D related to quantum technologies, quantum computing and quantum information science; and cybersecurity.
The latter is generating a lot of interest in the public and private sectors, with the emergence of a high-stakes quantum competition between the US and China that a government official told us is “a race to see who can close to the other first.” For now, that race is in preparation for when quantum is more developed.
“This idea of post-quantum encryption, the phrase people use is ‘save now, decrypt later,’” Sorensen said, “which means that everything that’s happening on the Internet right now, or certainly within any kind of government channel available, it is being absorbed. raised by someone The data is encrypted, but five, 10, 15 years from now, they will read it with a quantum system.”
Quantum is global: Despite myriad quantum challenges, that hasn’t stopped government- or private-sector-funded R&D: Countries and companies around the world are pouring money into quantum R&D. And while the US leads the way, Europe, China and India have big efforts underway.
On the private sector side, Sorensen said Hyperion has identified 44 developers of quantum computing hardware.
“Sure, the US has a lot of companies,” he said, “but there are a lot of organizations around the world that are looking at quantum technology and are building different kinds of quantum systems that are fundamentally different… They use different materials, they use completely different mechanisms to establish the quantum phenomenon necessary to carry out calculations”.
At the national level, published research papers indicate relative levels of R&D, with increasing activity globally.
“This means there is a wide range of diversity…” Sorensen said. “If you’re in a government and you haven’t put at least $1 billion or $2 billion into quantum computing development, it’s not even worth mentioning anymore. Everyone has an agenda, every government has recognized this as a topic on the national agenda.”
Quantum complexity: Quantum presents infinite complexities in part because quantum science is the study of existence at the atomic and subatomic level where things happen differently, very differently, from Newtonian life as we know it. Another source of complexity: quantum computing does not use the bits and bytes of traditional von Neumann computers. The basic unit of quantum information is a qubit, represented by the “Bloch sphere” on the previous slide. Whereas a bit is either a one or a zero, a qubit can take on a value anywhere on the outside of the sphere.
“So there are many variations of where (the value) can be (on the sphere),” Sorensen said, “it can be all the way up, it can be all the way down, it can be anywhere on the sphere at terms of phase and other angles. And that gives you the quantum power, the ability to encapsulate data in a much richer environment.”
The bit/qubit difference means that the exchange of information between, for example, an HPC system and the quantum environment is very challenging.
“The problem here is that when you want to put an input to a quantum system, you have to start with bits, that’s how the world works, we live in a classical environment, we don’t live in the quantum realm. Sorensen said. “That limits your ability to do anything in quantum space. Now you go into the quantum system and you get all kinds of great quantum goodness, you can do all kinds of incredibly complex calculations, huge interactions, that’s where you get a quantum edge and… you explore all the potential factors almost simultaneously. It’s where you can do some interesting models of molecular interactions, very complex interactions between molecules.”
But that leads to the next problem: getting results from the quantum system.
“So now that we’re getting out of quantum goodness, now we have to go back to the classical world,” Sorensen said. “What is perhaps more pernicious is that we don’t get ones and zeros (of a quantum system), we get probabilities of ones and zeros, we get a histogram of responses. That’s why when you run a quantum calculation, it asks how many shots (quantum runs) it has to do. If I want a good histogram, something that’s relatively realistic, I might have to do 1,000, or maybe 5,000 shots to get a histogram that looks like a (good) answer.”
There are many more challenges in the quantum landscape. On the business side, Sorensen said this includes the VC industry’s relatively short payback period compared to the lengthy R&D roadmap ahead for quantum. Another is the shortage of quantum talent. However development work continues, cloud-based quantum platforms from IBM, Microsoft and Amazon, to name three, are readily available and offer a cheap entry point for organizations and individuals looking to try quantum.
“Quantum is here,” Sorensen said. “He’s got a ways to go, but he just can’t be ignored as a force to be reckoned with in the next five minutes in the next two decades.”