Quantum Computing Initiative Seeks Machine 10,000x Faster Than Classical Computers

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has selected the University of Southern California to lead a consortium of universities and private companies to build quantum computers that are at least 10,000 times faster than the best state-of-the-art classical computers.

USC will lead the effort among various universities and private contractors to design, build and test 100 qubit quantum machines. Such high powered machines could help facilitate the solution of some of the most difficult optimization problems such as machine learning for image recognition, resolving scheduling conflicts in events with many participants, as well as sampling for improved prediction of random events. Pending continued success, the contract is worth up to $45 million in funding.

At USC, the effort includes the USC Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology in the Viterbi School of Engineering, and the Center for Quantum Computing at the Information Sciences Institute, a unit of the Viterbi School. Quantum computing expert Daniel Lidar, director of the USC Center for Quantum Information Science & Technology and the Viterbi Professor of Engineering, will serve as the Principal Investigator of the multi-institutional effort and Professor Stephen Crago of the Information Sciences Institute will serve as the Program/Technical Manager.

The consortium will focus on the design and testing of algorithms and new hardware. They will develop the computational framework and design quantum annealers, which are the specialized processors behind quantum optimization. The researchers will design ways to connect the building blocks of quantum annealers–qubits or the basic units in quantum computing that hold bits of information and the couplers, which connect the qubits to one another. The team aims to design multi-qubit couplers to allow for various configurations that will enable faster paced calculations. Government partner MIT Lincoln Labs will fabricate the hardware designed by the USC-led consortium.

The team’s goal is to build quantum annealers that allow for what quantum computing researchers call “high coherence” or long coherence time so that the qubits behave in a quantum fashion for long periods of time. This would mean that qubits can sustain quantum states like superposition, when they are simultaneously in two or more states.

“We are enormously gratified to have been selected by IARPA to lead the development of a new generation of quantum annealers for enhanced quantum optimization. This project has the potential to reshape the landscape of quantum computing, and I could not have asked for a better team to pursue this exciting goal,” said Lidar.

“IARPA’s QEO program promises to propel the U.S. into a clear leadership position in the worldwide race to develop a quantum computer at scale. We are fortunate to have a scientific leader of Dr. Lidar’s caliber and accomplishment. We are grateful to IARPA for their investment in our team and we look forward to redeeming QEO’s promise in full measure,” said Prem Natarajan, The Michael Keston Executive Director of the Information Sciences Institute.

The following institutions will be part of the five-year research initiative: MIT, Caltech, Harvard, UC Berkeley, University College London, University of Waterloo, Saarland University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. MIT Lincoln Labs will provide government furnished capability, while NASA Ames and Texas A&M will serve as government test and evaluation teams.

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