IBM awarded IARPA grant to advance research towards a universal quantum computer

IBM logo 112IBM announced on December 8 that the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program has notified Armonk, NY-based IBM that it will award its scientists a major multi-year research grant to advance the building blocks for a universal quantum computer.

A universal quantum computer uses quantum mechanics to process massive amounts of data and perform computations in powerful new ways not possible with today’s conventional computers. This type of leap forward in computing could one day shorten the time to discovery for life-saving cancer drugs to a fraction of what it is today; unlock new facets of artificial intelligence by vastly accelerating machine learning; or safeguard cloud computing systems to be impregnable from cyber-attack.

Earlier this year, IBM scientists demonstrated critical breakthroughs to detect quantum errors by combining superconducting quantum bits (qubits) in lattices on computer chips – and whose quantum circuit design is the only physical architecture that can scale to larger dimensions.

The award is funded under the Logical Qubits (LogiQ) program of IARPA led by Dr. David Moehring. The LogiQ Program seeks to overcome the limitations of current quantum systems by building a logical qubit from a number of imperfect physical qubits.

Under the LogiQ program, IBM’s research team will continue to pursue the leading approach for building a universal quantum computer by using superconducting qubits. By encoding the superconducting qubits into a logical qubit, one should then be able to perform true quantum computation. These logical qubit designs will be foundational to future, more complex quantum computing systems.

The workhorse of the quantum computer is the quantum bit. Many scientists are tackling the challenge of building qubits, but quantum information is extremely fragile and requires special techniques to preserve the quantum state. The major hurdles include creating qubits of high quality and packaging them together in a scalable form so they can perform complex calculations in a controllable way – limiting the errors that can result from heat and electromagnetic radiation.

“We are at a turning point where quantum computing is moving beyond theory and experimentation to include engineering and applications,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director, IBM Research. “Quantum computing promises to deliver exponentially more speed and power not achievable by today’s most powerful computers with the potential to impact business needs on a global scale. Investments and collaboration by government, industry and academia such as this IARPA program are necessary to help overcome some of the challenges towards building a universal quantum computer.”

LogiQ envisions that program success will require a multi-disciplinary approach to come up with new technical solutions that will better deal with the fragility of quantum information due to system imperfections, errors and environmental influences.

Source: IBM