Schrodinger’s Contracts: US Explores Quantum Computing
Readers who follow the tech press may be familiar with the concept of quantum computing. Computers use binary bits: on/off, yes/no, represented by 0 or 1. A quantum bit, or qubit, can be 1, or 0… or both. Whereas 111 = 7 in binary, and each number is a single choice among all the possibilities in the number of binary digits, 3 qubits can hold all 8 possibilities (0-7), which means you can do calculations on all of them at once. The more qubits used, the more computation, so 32 qubits theoretically gets you 2 to the 32nd power computations (about 4.3 billion) at once – much more power than conventional computing, and it keeps on rising exponentially.
It’s worth noting that quantum computing has limits, and areas where it will not be suitable for computing tasks. They are not fully understood yet, but have been shown to exist at the theoretical level. So far, all we can say is that certain kinds of problems will be solved much, much more quickly. The uses of such a system for searching large domains of information, cracking codes, creating codes, or running simulations that include the quantum level (as a number of modern physical and medical science applications do) are clear. As an additional benefit, quantum cryptography methods benefit from quantum principles. Eavesdropping is not only incredibly difficult, it will create noticeable interference.
Various American agencies continue to be interested in the field, which has also begun finding commercial applications.
A DARPA Quantum Network became fully operational on Oct 23/03 in BBN’s laboratories, running the world’s first Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network using 24×7 quantum cryptography to provide unprecedented levels of security for standard Internet traffic flows.
DARPA’s “Quantum Information Science & Technology” (QuIST) program lists as a completed effort; it won a DARPA award in 2008 for scientific breakthroughs. DARPA’s “High Productivity Computing Systems” effort included some quantum related efforts, but also appears to have wrapped up. DARPA’s DSO doesn’t seem to have active programs at the moment, nor does its I2O department.
Quantum Information Sciences: Contracts
Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, VA.
The goal of the program is to create tools and methods that integrate all aspects of the quantum computer – from hardware to software – in a single framework, resulting in unified resource management and realistic performance assessment. This will enable more informed decisions about where to direct ongoing quantum computing research and development. Additional program partners include NEC, the University of Waterloo in Canada, and the University of Melbourne in Australia. Raytheon.
June 22/10: BBN’s research appears to be paying off. New owner Raytheon announces “a physics breakthrough” by Raytheon BBN physicists William R. Kelly, Zachary Dutton, and Thomas A. Ohki, their colleagues John Schlafer and Bhaskar Mookerji, and 2 collaborators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The achievement is described in a Physical Review Letters paper, “Direct Observation of Coherent Population Trapping in a Superconducting Artificial Atom.” Normally, superconducting artificial atoms absorb photons at a particular frequency. By applying a second field at a different frequency, the artificial atom can effectively be made transparent. Similar quantum interference effects have been seen with light and atoms in the past, but this is the first such observation with superconductors. Will Kelly:
“Superconducting artificial atoms offer fast and reliable processing, and light offers fast and reliable transmission over long distances… Combining light and superconducting artificial atoms offers the best of both and is a promising development for building a large-scale quantum computer.”
Controlling the interaction between light and matter is a major achievement, but quantum computing will also need to slow light down in order to store it. Raytheon.
Meanwhile, a Canadian paper published in the June 16/10 Physical Review letter offers an interesting angle on security: quantum decoys.
June 2/09: BBN Technologies in Cambridge, MA received a $10.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to exercise “Option 1” for additional research in quantum information science. Work is to be performed in Cambridge, MA (61.2%), Arlington, VA (29.1%), and Yorktown Heights, NY (9.7%), with an estimated completion date of May 27/09. The USA’s Defense Research Projects Agency in Arlington, VA solicited and received 6 bids (HR0011-06-C-0051).
May 14/09: The US military aren’t the only ones exploring quantum cryptography. Britain’s QinetiQ defense technology research firm announces a strategic partnership with fiber-optic provider AboveNet, to provide quantum-based security over AboveNet’s dedicated fiber optic network in London:
“The quantum technique at the heart of QinetiQ’s network security solution enables the dynamic re-coding of equipment across a network. The technique exploits the complex quantum world, where light transmitting along optical fibres actually consists of many quantum particles called photons. Information is encoded onto properties of the photon so that if an eavesdropper attempts to steal the photon’s information, system performance is disturbed and an alarm is triggered. When combined with other cryptographic techniques the network solution provides the highest forward and backward security with strong and dynamic access management.”
April 13/09: HRL Laboratories in Malibu, CA won a $40.2 million cost plus fixed fee contract for research in quantum information science. Work is to be performed in Malibu, CA, with an estimated completion date of April 11/11. Six bids were solicited and 6 bids received (HR0011-06-C-0052).
May 18/07: HRL Laboratories in Malibu, CA received a $2.6 million increment of a $6.9 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus fixed-fee contract for military applications of quantum information science.
Work will be performed in Malibu, CA (63%), Los Angeles, CA (17%), Cambridge, MA (11%), and Madison, WI (9%), and is expected to be complete May 2009. Funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This is a limited competition contract (HR0011-06-C-0052, P00007).
March 26/07: Arpanet pioneers BBN Technologies in Cambridge, MA received a $3.5 million increment of a $14 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus fixed fee contract for military applications of quantum information science.
Work will be performed in Cambridge, MA (40%), Yorktown Heights, NY, (39%), and Arlington, VA (21%), and is expected to be complete in May 2010. This action is a limited competition contract (HR0011-06-C-0051, P00004).
March 20/07: HRL Laboratories in Malibu, CA received a $16 million increment as part of a $75.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for military applications of quantum information science.
Work will be performed in Malibu, CA and is expected to be complete by March 19, 2009. There were 6 bids solicited on June 13, 2006, and 6 bids were received (HR0011-06-C-0052).
Quantum Computing Overview
- IBM’s Almaden Research Center – Introduction to Quantum Computing: A guide to solving intractable problems simply. Good introductory primer.
- Cambridge University UK – Center for Quantum Computing. for an introduction, see esp. “What is Quantum Cryptography?”
- Wikipedia – Wikipedia article. More technical than the other primers.
- FX Palo Alto Laboratory – An Introduction to Quantum Computing for Non-Physicists [PDF, 45 pgs]. Combines equations and conceptual explanations.
- Ars Technica (Sept 17/12) – Quantum cryptography: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “Does it have a future? Classic cryptology isn’t budging, but all depends on QKD.”
- Raytheon (2009) – Connecting the Quantum Dots
- Science Blog (April 7/08) – Researchers Take Step Toward Creating Quantum Computers
- DARPA (July 18/07) – QuantumInformatIonSCIEnCE: DarPa’S nEW frontIEr