NASA and Google's Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Jul 30, 2015 09:41 PM EDT
International Space Station captures view of Hurricane Irma
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign. (Photo : Reuters/Carlos Barria )

Quantum computing could totally revolutionize computer technologies and even the way we interact with machines. The joint team working on this project is led by John Martinis of University of California, Santa Barbara. This collaboration reunites prestigious public and private research resources from NASA's Ames Space Research Center in Silicon Valley, Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).

The project focuses on the applications of quantum computing to artificial intelligence (AI). As the director of engineering from Google explained, the Quantum AI team is an integrated hardware group that works with the aim to implement and test new designs for inference processors and quantum optimization, based on learning from the D-Wave quantum annealing architecture and recent theoretical insights.

As scientists continue to explore how to manipulate the technology, quantum computing is still in its infancy. Researchers aim to move the technology from laboratory to computer industry applications. Despites some tests by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) that have suggested that the Vesuvius D-Wave supercomputer had no tangible benefits over silicon processors, American researchers have great hopes to transform quantum computing into a stable technology within environments outside the laboratory.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is among Vesuvius D-Wave supercomputer's clients. The NAS facility hosts the Quantum AI Laboratory, a collaborative effort among Universities Space Research Association, Google and NASA. The research team explores the potential for quantum computers to approach some optimization problems that are impossible or just difficult for traditional supercomputers to handle.

In spring 2013, a D-Wave Two quantum computer was installed in the laboratory. The system is housed inside a cryogenics system within 10 square meter shielded room and about the size of a garden storage shed. The system is the most powerful of its kind in the world, with a processing capacity of approximately 512 superconducting flux qubits. 

The Quantum AI Laboratory makes use of the 512-qubit D-Wave Two quantum computer, housed on the NASA Ames campus, at the NAS facility. In order to provide isolation from vibration and noise, the facility has been extensively retrofitted. A cooling infrastructure was added as well, in order to cool the system to its operating temperature of near-absolute-zero.

After the installation team completed a series of rigorous calibration and acceptance tests, the Quantum AI laboratory has become operational in early fall 2013.The Vesuvius D-Wave supercomputer is co-owned by Google and NASA Ames. In order to aid the research its processing capacity has been doubled. The supercomputer was upgraded to a 1,000 qubit Washington processor. 

NASA researchers use this system to research areas where quantum algorithms might dramatically improve someday the agency's ability to solve difficult optimization problems in space exploration, Earth and space sciences, and aeronautics. Among potential applications relevant to NASA are included pattern recognition, machine learning, distributed coordination and navigation, mission planning and scheduling, and system diagnostics and anomaly detection.

A quantum computer makes use directly of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as wave-particle duality, tunneling and entanglement. The system is based on qubits, the name for quantum. A qubit represent a zero, one or both values simultaneously, unlike traditional computers where bits must have a value of either zero or one. The qubit's quantum properties allow scientists to effectively try all possible solutions at once for certain types of optimization problems, arriving at the best answer much more quickly.

Everything about the Google and NASA's Quantum AI Laboratory is exciting. The joint effort provides a powerful D-Wave machine at the disposal of researchers from around the globe. The Universities Space Research Association is inviting international teams of engineers and scientists to share time on the unique super computer.

Quantum computing can be leveraged to advance machine learning, a branch of AI crucial to Google's success. The internet company has already researched with quantum computing before. Its new goal is apply this experimentation into real world results. By combining the traditional data centers with highly specialized extreme computing power, Google aims to build more accurate models for everything from web search to speech recognition. 

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