Over the past few years, quantum computer manufacturer D-Wave has been rolling out hardware capable of increasingly complex tasks and solving more advanced types of problems. This week, it unveiled a new system capable of entangling up to 2,000 qubits.
The D-Wave 2000Q has 2,048 qubits; a substantial increase over the 1,000-qubit D-Wave 2X. Equally important, the $ 15 million-dollar computer has a first customer — Temporal Defense Systems, which will use the machine “to solve some of the most critical and complex cyber security problems impacting governments and commercial enterprises.” The terms of the deal also give TDS an upgrade path to future “QPUs” (quantum processing units, natch).
“The combined power of the TDS / D-Wave quantum cyber solution will revolutionize secure communications, protect against insider threats, and assist in the identification of cyber adversaries and attack patterns,” said James Burrell, TDS Chief Technology Officer and former FBI Deputy Assistant Director. “Combining the unique computational capabilities of a quantum computer with the most advanced cyber security technologies will deliver the highest level of security, focused on both prevention and attribution of cyber attacks.”
There are considerable benefits associated with this approach and the development of unprecedented levels of detection and attribution, Burrell said. “The technology will provide the ability to identify, authorize, and authenticate at the individual device level throughout the network. Additionally, the introduction of post-quantum cryptography algorithms and the capability to solve complex computational problems achievable only using quantum computing platforms will aid in improving the security of constantly changing operational networks…the intent is to introduce an entirely new approach to existing and emerging cyber security challenges impacted by the volume, sophistication, and complexity of modern attack methodologies.”
This is one of those statements that sounds extremely impressive, but I’m a little less certain of how it will work in practice. Historically, one limit of D-Wave computers has been that they had trouble with certain classes of problems. D-Wave’s architecture uses quantum annealing and many of the early research projects into its systems focused on whether the device was performing quantum annealing or merely simulating it. D-Wave describes quantum annealing as:
Quantum annealing is fundamentally different from classical computing. It harnesses the natural tendency of real-world quantum systems to find low-energy states. If an optimization problem is analogous to a landscape of peaks and valleys, for instance, each coordinate represents a possible solution and its elevation represents its energy. The best solution is that with the lowest energy corresponding to the lowest point in the deepest valley in the landscape.
Computation is performed by initializing the quantum processing unit (QPU) into a ground state of a known problem and annealing the system toward the problem to be solved such that it remains in a low energy state throughout the process. At the end of the computation, each qubit ends up as either a 0 or 1. This final state is the optimal or near-optimal solution to the problem to be solved.
One interesting difference between the older D-Wave systems and the newer D-Wave 2X and 2000Q are how they join qubits together. Here’s the old method:
And here’s the D-Wave 2X system (our understanding is the D-Wave 2000Q uses this same topology).
The network is still sparsely connected, but it looks as if there’s significantly more cross-qubit connections than we saw in previous systems. This should make it easier to use the D-Wave 2000Q to solve various types of problems, and hopefully give scientists more useful scenarios to evaluate the performance of quantum annealing versus its classical counterpart.
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