WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Quantum computers have a huge performance advantage over today’s fastest computing platforms, and they’ll revolutionise almost every industry.
Quantum computers are already showing themselves to be among the most powerful computers on Earth, with several systems now out performing their silicon brethren hundreds of millions fold and Google’s latest entry debatably achieving Quantum Supremacy – performing calculations in seconds that would have taken even the world’s most powerful supercomputers tens of thousands of years to calculate.
This week D-Wave, one of the first companies to launch in the space, and who unveiled their last 2,000 qubit system back in 2017, unveiled its next-generation quantum computing platform, called Advantage, via its Leap quantum cloud service. The company calls Advantage “the first quantum computer built for business,” and also debuted Launch, a jump start program for businesses that want to begin building hybrid quantum applications.
“The Advantage quantum computer is the first quantum computer designed and developed from the ground up to support business applications,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz in an interview. “We engineered it to be able to deal with large, complex commercial applications and to be able to support the running of those applications in production environments. There is no other quantum computer anywhere in the world that can solve problems at the scale and complexity that this quantum computer can solve problems. It really is the only one that you can run real business applications on. The other quantum computers are primarily prototypes. You can do experimentation, run small proofs of concept, but none of them can support applications at the scale that we can.”
Quantum computing leverages qubits, unlike normal computer bits that can only be in a state of 0 or 1, qubits can also be in a superposition of the two, in order to perform computations that would be much more difficult, or simply not feasible, for a classical computer.
Based in Canada D-Wave was the first company to sell commercial quantum computers, which generally went for $15 million or more each, but in a change of tack the company doesn’t sell quantum computers anymore. Advantage and its “over 5,000 qubits” system, which is up from 2,000 qubits in the company’s 2000Q system, are now only available via the cloud via Leap or a partner like Amazon Braket.
If you’re confused by the “over 5,000 qubits” part, you’re not alone. More qubits typically means more potential for building commercial quantum applications. But D-Wave isn’t giving a specific qubit count for Advantage because the exact number varies between different systems.
“Essentially, D-Wave is guaranteeing the availability of 5,000 qubits to Leap users using Advantage,” said a D-Wave spokesperson. “The actual specific number of qubits varies from chip to chip in each Advantage system. Some of the chips have significantly more than 5,000 qubits, and others are a bit closer to 5,000. But bottom line — anyone using Leap will have full access to at least 5,000 qubits.”
Advantage also promises 15-way qubit connectivity, thanks to a new chip topology, Pegasus, which D-Wave detailed back in February 2019 – Pegasus’ predecessor Chimera offered six connected qubits. Having each qubit connected to 15 other qubits instead of six translates to 2.5 times more connectivity, which in turn enables the embedding of larger and more complex problems with fewer physical qubits.
“The combination of the number of qubits and the connectivity between those qubits determines how large a problem you can solve natively on the quantum computer,” Baratz said. “With the 2,000-qubit processor, we could natively solve problems within 100- to 200-variable range. With the Advantage quantum computer, having twice as many qubits and twice as much connectivity, we can solve problems more in the 600- to 800-variable range. As we’ve looked at different types of problems, and done some rough calculations, it comes out to generally we can solve problems about 2.6 times as large on the Advantage system as what we could have solved on the 2000-qubit processor. But that should not be mistaken with the size problem you can solve using the hybrid solver backed up by the Advantage quantum computer.”
D-Wave today also announced its expanded hybrid solver service will be able to handle problems with up to 1 million variables – up from 10,000 variables. It will be generally available in Leap on October 8. The discrete quadratic model (DQM) solver is supposed to let businesses and developers apply hybrid quantum computing to new problem classes. Instead of accepting problems with only binary variables (0 or 1), the DQM solver uses other variable sets (integers from 1 to 500, colors, etc.), expanding the types of problems that can run on Advantage. D-Wave asserts that Advantage and DQM together will let businesses “run performant, real-time, hybrid quantum applications for the first time.”
Put another way, 1 million variables means tackling large-scale, business-critical problems. “Now, with the Advantage system and the enhancements to the hybrid solver service, we’ll be able to solve problems with up to 1 million variables,” Baratz said. “That means truly able to solve production-scale commercial applications.”
Depending on the technology they are built on, different quantum computers tend to be better at solving different problems. D-Wave has long said its quantum computers are good at solving optimization problems, “and most business problems are optimization problems,” Baratz argues.
Advantage isn’t going to be able to solve different types of problems, compared to its 2000Q predecessor. But coupled with DQM and the sheer number of variables, it may still be significantly more useful to businesses.
“The architecture is the same,” Baratz confirmed. “Both of these quantum computers are annealing quantum computers. And so the class of problems, the types of problems they can solve, are the same. It’s just at a different scale and complexity. The 2000-qubit processor just couldn’t solve these problems at the scale that our customers need to solve them in order for them to impact their business operations.”
In March, D-Wave made its quantum computers available for free to coronavirus researchers and developers. “Through that process what we learned was that while we have really good software, really good tools, really good training, developers and businesses still need help,” said Baratz. “Help understanding what are the best problems that they can benefit from the quantum computer and how to best formulate those problems to get the most out of the quantum computer.”
D-Wave Launch will thus make the company’s application experts and a set of handpicked partner companies available to its customers. Launch aims to help anyone understand how to best leverage D-Wave’s quantum systems to support their business. Fill out a form on D-Wave’s website and you will be triaged to determine who might be best able to offer guidance.
“In order to actually do anything with the quantum processor, you do need to become a Leap customer,” Baratz said. “But you don’t have to first become a Leap customer. We’re perfectly happy to engage with you to help you understand the benefits of the quantum computer and how to use it.”
D-Wave will make available “about 10” of its own employees as part of Launch, plus partners.