IBM tapped by US intelligence agency to grow complex quantum computing technology

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity filling out its quantum systems development program


IBM today got a multi-year grant from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to build key components of what it calls a universal quantum computer.

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You may recall that IARPA operates as part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Big Blue award was granted under the auspices of the group’s Logical Qubits (LogiQ) program which is looking to develop technologies that overcome the limitations of current quantum systems by building a logical qubit from a number of imperfect physical qubits.

A quantum bit or qubit or quantum bit in the quantum computing realm usesqubitsinstead of the usual bits representing 1s or 0s. Ultimately quantum-computing efforts should result in super-fast, super secure computers the experts say.  

In this case, IBM's research team will continue to develop technologies 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, IBM said.

IBM says that 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.

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“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,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director, IBM Research in a statement.

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, IBM stated. 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, the company stated.

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In furthering LogiQ, IARPA says it wants to address the limitations of current quantum computing systems.

“First and foremost, the overall performance of multi- qubit systems is inferior to the performance of the individual qubits. These physical qubits are susceptible to system noise and losses induced by their environment, insufficient operation fidelity, lack of error correction, poor feedback and dynamical control, and inadequate multi-qubit control. Success in building practical quantum computers hinges on the ability to combat environment-induced decoherence and errors in quantum gates. This can be effectively and extensibly achieved by innovations that encode physical qubits into a logical qubit,” IARPA stated.

LogiQ looks to build a logical qubit from a number of imperfect physical qubits. LogiQ envisions that program success will require a multi-disciplinary approach that increases the fidelity of quantum gates, state preparation, and qubit readout; improves classical control; implements active quantum feedback; has the ability to reset and reuse qubits; and performs further system improvements, IARPA stated.

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