Many believe that quantum computing could take humanity to new frontiers, expanding our knowledge and capacity to tackle the hardest computational problems known today. The potential implications are profound. Quantum computing could transform artificial intelligence, genomics, finance, and clean energy devices. Future machines could help lead to faster delivery of products, lower costs for manufactured goods and best possible travel routes.
“Classical computing can only take us so far,” explained Ray Johnson, Lockheed Martin’s CTO in 2014. He argued that in the future, critical systems will become so complex that problems will take too long or become too expensive to solve using even our most powerful supercomputers.
“We believe that the next computational revolution will stem from applied quantum science”.
This week Quantum Business spoke with Steve Adachi, the principal investigator for quantum computing applications research at Lockheed Martin Space. LM Space, formerly known as LM Space Systems Company is one of several business areas within the corporation. Steve outlined Lockheed’s research into the space and the main industrial use cases down the line. “The field of quantum computing is now gaining momentum”, he argues. “The future of computing will use hybrid architecture.”
Lockheed Martin is a US based global security and aerospace company that employs around 100,000 people worldwide. They were one of the earliest adopters in quantum computing and today have a strong quantum programme, leading partnerships with a variety of academic institutions and providers, including D-Wave systems. In 2011 Lockheed partnered with the University of Southern California and founded the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center (QCC). This is home to the D-Wave one, the first commercial adiabatic quantum optimiser and the D-Wave Two that was purchased in 2013. We were keen to explore Lockheed’s venture into the space and the progress that has been made.
Why Do We Need Quantum Computing?
Moore’s Law is a trend that has propelled technology forward over the last four decades. However, many foresee that a technological slowdown on the horizon. Already the billions of transistors on the latest chips are invisible to the naked eye. If Moore’s Law was to continue through 2050, ‘engineers will have to build transistors from components that are smaller than a single atom of hydrogen’. It’s also increasingly expensive for companies to keep up. Building fabrication plants for new chips costs billions.
“For 50 years we’ve had the luxury of “Moore’s Law”, an extraordinary growth in processing capability. However, now that era is coming to an end while data continues to grow exponentially”, argues Steve.
“So we need to be looking for technological breakthroughs, and quantum computing may be one of those breakthroughs that helps transition us to a more sustainable trajectory.”
“Traditional computers have bits that are limited to ‘thinking’ serially in zeroes and ones, while quantum computers have quantum bits or qubits that can ‘think’ in both zeroes and ones, and all of the points in between, all at once. Combine qubits with the fact that quantum computing taps into the physics of entanglement and tunnelling and we’re talking about an entirely new computing language. Problems must be written in a completely different way, making it a true problem of problems.”
“Quantum computers will be used as ‘co-processors’ for certain computational hard tasks, thereby offloading some of the burden on CPUs, GPUs, or their successors.”
“In the area of Quantum Annealing, D-Wave Systems has been making great strides, and we’ve also progressed in our understanding of what it will take to build a “next generation” quantum annealer. For example, in the United States, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is funding some of this work under the Quantum Enhanced Optimization (QEO) program.”
“Likewise in the universal quantum computing community, we’ve seen progress by established companies like IBM and Google, as well as a growing number of researchers taking the plunge and starting up their own companies. “
As an early adopter of quantum computing, we’re glad to see that more companies and investors are starting to take an interest in this technology. “
Today Lockheed Martin are principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.
“We’re interested in solving our customers’ hard problems as well as delivering systems with higher quality and lower cost. There are a number of ways that quantum computing could potentially help with these goals, including allocating and scheduling resources; analysing sensor data; detecting and predicting faults or anomalies in systems, networks, and software; and designing new structures or materials.”
The USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center (QCC) is a joint scientific research effort between Lockheed Martin and the University of Southern California (USC). “Lockheed Martin has had a very fruitful partnership in quantum information science with the University of Southern California, and we’re proud of the role that the USC-LM Quantum Computation Center has played in advancing the field of Quantum Annealing.”
Steve claims that the USC team, led by Dr. Daniel Lidar, was instrumental in publishing the work that characterised the “quantumness” and performance of the D-Wave devices. “This has enabled the scientific community to engage in a healthy debate that has led to greater understanding of how to benchmark quantum computers and the meaning of “’quantum speedup.’”
“At the same time, having actual quantum hardware to experiment with, has been invaluable to those of us at Lockheed Martin, focused on devising quantum algorithms and applications. While the current machines still have a number of practical limitations, we don’t expect those limitations to go away any time soon. Ultimately, the tricks that we are developing to deal with those limitations—and an appreciation for how well different types of applications “fit” on a quantum annealer—may remain useful for some time to come.”
Advice For Business Leaders
Steve shared his advice for organisations adapting to the quantum era. He believes that the rate of progress has opened up many opportunities to participate in the space.
“Quantum computing technology will demand new skills not just for programmers, but also for system architects and designers. These skills have a long learning curve, so it’s advisable to start early and think about how you might grow a future workforce to include “quantum engineers.”
Hands-on experience is invaluable; if your organisation is not in a position to purchase a quantum computer, there are cloud-based systems, simulators, quantum programming languages and toolkits available to practice on.
Future of Machine Learning
The fusion of quantum computing and machine learning has become a booming research area. Matching the two could be the catalyst for the next chapter of 21st century innovation. We asked Steve about his thoughts on the match-up.
“It’s a bit early to gauge what impact quantum computing will have on machine learning. After all, our existing AI technology has made some impressive achievements, such as beating human champions in Go and poker.”
“However, when you consider all the tasks that the average human brain is capable of, using less power than a light bulb, there are clearly some secrets of intelligence that we haven’t yet mastered. Perhaps as our understanding of perception, memory, and reasoning continues to evolve, it will become clearer whether it will be advantageous to realize some of these processes using quantum computing.”
Steve Adachi Lockheed Martin fellow
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Article written by Hal Briggs from Quantum Business