Turing Award honors a different kind of AI network with ‘Nobel Prize of computing’

Turing Award honors a different kind of AI network with ‘Nobel Prize of computing’

1:14pm, 28th March, 2019
Facebook’s Yann LeCun, Mila’s Yoshua Bengio and Google’s Geoffrey Hinton share the 2018 Turing Award. (ACM Photos) The three recipients of the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2018 Turing Award, known as the “Nobel Prize of computing,” are sharing the $1 million award for their pioneering work with artificial neural networks — but that’s not all they share. Throughout their careers, the researchers’ career paths and spheres of influence in the field of artificial intelligence have crossed repeatedly. Yann LeCun, vice president and chief AI scientist at Facebook, conducted postdoctoral research under the supervision of Geoffrey Hinton, who is now a vice president and engineering fellow at Google. LeCun also worked at Bell Labs in the early 1990s with Yoshua Bengio, who is now a professor at the University of Montreal, scientific director of Quebec’s Mila AI institute, and an adviser for Microsoft’s AI initiative. All three also participate in the program sponsored by CIFAR, previously known as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. In , ACM credited the trio with rekindling the AI community’s interest in deep neural networks — thus laying the groundwork for today’s rapid advances in machine learning. “Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science, and one of the most-talked-about topics in society,” said ACM President , a professor emeritus of computer science at Oregon State University. “The growth of and interest in AI is due, in no small part, to the recent advances in deep learning for which Bengio, Hinton and LeCun laid the foundation.” And you don’t need to work in a lab to feel their impact. “Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket can tangibly experience advances in natural language processing and computer vision that were not possible just 10 years ago,” Pancake said. The current approach to machine learning, championed by Hinton starting in the early 1980s, shies away from telling a computer explicitly how to solve a given task, such as object classification. Instead, the software uses an algorithm to analyze the patterns in a data set, and then apply that algorithm to classify new data. Through repeated rounds of learning, the algorithm becomes increasingly accurate. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio focused on developing neural networks to facilitate that learning. Such networks are composed of relatively simple software elements that are interconnected in ways inspired by the connections between neurons in the human brain.
Quantum computing is coming: Here’s why Seattle needs to get our computer science workforce ready

Quantum computing is coming: Here’s why Seattle needs to get our computer science workforce ready

8:14am, 22nd March, 2019
University of Washington graduate students Katherine McAlpine and Daniel Gochnauer work in the Ultracold Atoms Group’s lab to study ultracold atoms and quantum gases. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise) Editor’s note: is a co-founder and managing director at Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. He is a member of Challenge Seattle and sits on the Amazon board of directors. Commentary: This week I had the opportunity to speak at the , co-sponsored by Microsoft, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Labs. The Summit brought together, for the first time, the large network of quantum researchers, universities and technology companies working in quantum information science (QIS) in our region to share quantum developments and to work together to establish the Pacific Northwest as one of the leading quantum science centers in the world. Quantum computing has the potential to transform our economies and lives. As one of the Summit speakers said, we are on the “cusp of a quantum century.” Quantum computers will be able to solve problems that classical computers can’t solve, even if they run their algorithms for thousands of years. Quantum computers are not limited to the on-or-off (one-or-zero) bits of today’s digital computers. Quantum computers manipulate “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously, which allows exponentially faster calculations. Quantum computers are expected to be able to crack present-day security codes, which is already causing scientists to work on devising new encryption protocols to protect consumer and business data and national security. Applications developed for quantum computers likely will help us overcome existing challenges in material, chemical and environmental sciences, such as devising new ways for sequestering carbon and improving batteries. Even though the Seattle area is one of the top two technology centers in the U.S., along with the San Francisco Bay Area, we have to make investments now to ensure we become a leading quantum center. To achieve this goal, I argued that we will need to substantially increase financial support to build up the UW’s quantum research capacity and equally important, to create an extensive quantum information science curriculum. The UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering began this year to offer a course teaching Microsoft’s Q# language, but one course is not enough if we are to make our area one of the major quantum centers of the future. Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Tom Alberg speaks at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit this week in Seattle. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., is seated behind Alberg. (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Photo / Andrea Starr) Fortunately for our region, Microsoft is one of the acknowledged leaders in quantum computing and is committed to building our regional network. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gives credit to former Microsoft chief technology officer and research leader Craig Mundie for launching Microsoft’s quantum initiative 10 years ago. Microsoft’s goal is no less than to build a “general-purpose” quantum computer — the holy grail of quantum computing. In the meantime, they are supporting efforts to build a cadre of researchers who are familiar with quantum and capable of writing quantum programs. They have developed and launched a quantum computer language, Q#, as well as a quantum development kit and “Katas,” which are computing tasks that classical computer scientists can use to learn quantum computing skills. They are also building an open source library of quantum programs and have launched the Microsoft Quantum Network to provide assistance to quantum startups and developers. The federal government has recently launched the National Quantum Initiative, which will provide $1.2 billion over the next five years primarily to quantum researchers. The president the new law in December after the bill was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate and a 348-11 vote in the House. Among the purposes are to build a “quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS.” This federal funding is welcome, even though it’s less than required for a Manhattan-style project equivalent to China’s national quantum initiative. It will be highly important to our region that our congressional delegation, several members of whom are particularly tech-savvy, advocate our case for a fair share of this funding. Our Washington State Legislature should support this by making appropriations for quantum computing and education at the UW as a down payment showing local support. There is also a role for private companies to support our quantum efforts beyond what Microsoft is already doing. I am reminded of the grants by Amazon to the UW in 2012 during the Great Recession, engineered by then-UW computer science chair Ed Lazowska to recruit two leading professors, Carlos Guestrin from Carnegie Mellon and Emily Fox from the University of Pennsylvania, to strengthen the UW’s machine learning expertise. The two $1 million gifts created two endowed professorships. Inflation has certainly raised the price for endowed professorships, but perhaps this could be repeated. Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo) Another way to build our region’s quantum expertise would be for a local tech entrepreneur to follow the example of Paul Allen, who endowed five $100 million-plus scientific institutes, one of which is the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence, headed by former UW professor and current venture partner at Madrona, Oren Etzioni. Building a quantum workforce begins in K-12 schools with teaching computer science, which is a stepping stone to quantum information science. K-12 schools in the U.S. are woefully deficient in teaching basic computer science. Nationally, only 35 percent of high schools offer a computer science course, according to Code.org. And in low-income and minority schools this is even lower since the 35 percent reflects a lot of suburban schools which are more likely to offer computer science courses. We are beginning to address this gap in high schools, but a much larger commitment is needed. Private companies can help fill part of the gap. Amazon recently its Future Engineers program, which includes a $50 million investment in computer science and STEM education for underprivileged students. As part of this program, a few weeks ago, Amazon announced grants to more than 1,000 schools in all 50 states, over 700 of which are Title 1 schools. Studies have shown that if a disadvantaged student takes an advanced computer science course in high school, they are eight times as likely to major in computer science at a university. In addition to Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies have programs to increase the teaching of computer science. One of those programs, backed by Microsoft, is TEALS, which organizes employees and retired employees as volunteers to teach computer science in schools. Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies are big financial supporters of Code.org, which is having a significant effect on increasing the teaching of computer science in public schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science related jobs needing to be filled, but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Only a tiny percentage of the 400,000 are minorities or from low-income families. A similar need exists in Washington state, with a gap of several thousand between the jobs to be filled and the number of annual graduates. In Seattle and other tech centers in the U.S., we have been fortunate that we have been able to attract and retain a very substantial number of computer scientists from other countries to fill these jobs. But with immigration and trade uncertainties, this flow is uncertain and may not be as robust as needed. Even more important, by not providing the opportunity for our kids, particularly disadvantaged children, we are short-changing them. The best way to close the income gap is to improve our public educational system so a broader segment of our population can qualify for the jobs of the future. Organizations such as the Technology Access Foundation are attacking this problem head-on by creating curriculum, recruiting minority teachers and building schools. We need to support these organizations and implement their approach broadly. At the university level, we are also deficient in educating a sufficient number of computer scientists. Even at universities such as the UW, with large and high-quality computer science schools, we are unable to fill the demand for computer scientists. The Allen School graduates about 450 undergraduate students annually. Although this is double what the school produced a few years ago, it is woefully short of the several thousand needed annually in our state. This needs to be doubled again, but funding is lacking. In short, our region needs to recommit to building our computer science workforce beginning in our K-12 schools, and undertake a new effort to build our quantum expertise and workforce.
What will quantum computing do for us? Programmers, policymakers share ideas

What will quantum computing do for us? Programmers, policymakers share ideas

9:56pm, 19th March, 2019
Microsoft researchers Krysta Svore and David Reilly work on hardware for a quantum computer. (Microsoft Photo) Quantum computer scientist Krysta Svore has a dream. In her dream, she arrives at the week’s at the University of Washington in a self-driving car that uses quantum computation to sharpen the precision of its GPS readings and optimize its route through traffic. “So I got here faster than I ever have before,” Svore said. “I paid with my quantum credit card, which I know no one has stolen, because it’s fully secure,” she said “On the way, I looked outside, and the air was crisp and clear. We have more carbon being extracted from the atmosphere. We have cleaner energy solutions. In fact, the country was just rewired with room-temperature superconducting cable, so we have lossless power transmission across the United States.” In Svore’s dream, quantum computers have optimized the routes for transmitting that power, and have also come up with the chemistry for super-efficient storage batteries, turning solar and wind power into always-available electricity. “All of this is leading to a lower power bill for me,” she said. Svore dreams of quantum technologies that can design new drugs on the molecular scale, map distant black holes with incredible precision and create new types of games that will help the next generation get used to how the weird world of quantum physics works. “This was my dream last night,” Svore said. “The world was different. It was quantum. But in fact, this dream is here. The world is quantum. And it’s in our hands today to create this dream, to create it here in the Northwest.” In the waking world, Svore is general manager of quantum software at Microsoft — and one of the organizers of this week’s quantum computing summit, which concluded today. The aim of the event was to build new connections within the Pacific Northwest’s quantum research community. Microsoft, UW and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory already have a productive public-private partnership in the field, and this week’s event attracted hundreds of like-minded research leaders from Washington state, Oregon, British Columbia and beyond. Quantum computing is different from classical digital computing in that it relies on the manipulation of quantum bits, or qubits, that can hold different values simultaneously until the result of the computation is read out. The hardware and software are tricky to work out, but some companies — such as in Burnaby, B.C. — are already offering first-generation quantum cloud services. Within five years, Microsoft hopes to follow with its own on the Azure cloud platform. Funding for quantum research isn’t just a dream. Tech companies are pouring millions of dollars into their quantum efforts, and the sets aside $1.2 billion for quantum research over the next five years. The White House’s recently released budget proposal calls for spending $430 million on quantum information science in the coming fiscal year. “Quantum information science has the potential to revolutionize our scientific knowledge, improve our industrial base, and provide substantial economic and national security benefits,” the White House says in its . The $430 million would be divvied up among the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Chris Fall, director of the Energy Department’s Office of Science, said quantum information science will be crucial to the economy as well as national security, in part because of its potential for breaking encryption codes and creating new forms of secure communications. To follow through on the National Quantum Initiative Act, the Energy Department is gearing up to create a network of regional quantum research centers — a network that the Northwest Quantum Nexus hopes to get in on. Fall said he can’t predict where the centers will be placed, but he assured attendees that quantum research will be a priority for his department. “We’re really going to be all in on this,” he said. Jacob Taylor, assistant director for quantum information science at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, focused on the broader technological advances that will be sparked by the quantum quest. “When I think about building a quantum computer, I don’t think about building qubits,” he said. “I think about materials science. I think about control electronics. I think about cryogenics. I think about lasers. I think about vacuum systems. I think about control software. … I look at the stuff that’s happening in quantum sensing, and quantum networking to some extent, as big drivers of science and also a technological base, which will feed into what you might need to build a quantum computer.” As is the case for , the United States has rivals in the quantum computing race. The European Union has set aside more than a billion dollars for its , and by some accounts, China is . Taylor, however, cautioned against making dollar-to-dollar comparisons. He said it’s hard to determine exactly how much China is spending because different types of programs are classified in different ways. “All I can say is, it’s clear that they are spending a lot of money,” Taylor said. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he looks at the quantum race primarily through the prism of national security. He acknowledged it’s not easy for him to understand the detailed workings of quantum computing. “One thing I do understand is it gives us the ability to test theories, to look at the challenges that we have and figure out ‘how can we get an answer to this?’ … In the defense world, it’s about doing everything better,” said Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Smith said he has a quantum dream of his own. “As a child, I read the by Isaac Asimov. What I want is, I want to be able to predict what our adversaries are going to do, what human beings are going to do,” Smith said. “I’m not actually entirely kidding about that.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell and Microsoft President Brad Smith put a Northwest spin on quantum computing

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Microsoft President Brad Smith put a Northwest spin on quantum computing

10:15pm, 18th March, 2019
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Microsoft President Brad Smith discuss the challenge of quantum computing during a fireside chat at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) The Pacific Northwest may be known for tech icons like Microsoft and Amazon but when U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was asked what advice she’d give to the researchers and executives who are trying to up their game when it comes to quantum computing, she invoked a slogan used by a totally different kind of industry leader. “To borrow from another Northwest icon, ‘Just Do It,’ ” she said, referring to Nike, the Oregon-based sporting goods powerhouse. During today’s fireside chat with Microsoft President Brad Smith at the kickoff summit of a public-private consortium called the , Cantwell said quantum computing could become as much a part of the Pacific Northwest’s tech scene as Boeing and Microsoft, Amazon and Blue Origin. Quantum computing is a fuzzy approach to number-crunching that’s totally different from the classical data processing methods that have ruled the tech world for decades. Researchers haven’t yet created a universal quantum computer, but Vancouver, B.C.-based is already selling access to a . Microsoft, meanwhile, is aiming to . Cantwell and Smith acknowledged that relatively few folks in the general public are keyed into what computer scientists call “the quantum advantage” — that is, the ability of quantum computation to solve problems in chemistry, materials science and other fields that simply can’t be addressed by classical computers. Smith even wondered whether Cantwell’s colleagues in the Senate were able to keep up. “In some ways, the first test of whether a topic will resonate with the general public is whether people can reach the members of the House and Senate,” Smith mused. “Is that supposed to be funny?” Cantwell deadpanned. Cantwell, who worked as a tech executive at Real Networks before her election to the Senate in 2000, said members of the general public aren’t likely to get excited about quantum computing until they see its applications come to life — for example, in the form of exotic materials for super-efficient power storage batteries. “We’re so close on some of the renewables, yet we need to solve the storage problem to really make it work,” she said. The fact that the payoff may be a long time coming doesn’t mean entrepreneurs should back away from the frontier, she said. “What you can’t predict is how fast breakthroughs are going to happen. … Unleash it, just do it, unleash that, and my guess is we’ll be pretty surprised at what people can accomplish,” Cantwell said. Previously: Cantwell and other policymakers are already “doing it” by following through on the , which sets aside $1.2 billion over the next five years to boost quantum information science. The senator, who serves as the ranking member on the , said that funding will now have to go through the appropriations process to identify specific programs to receive the money. The legislation calls for , and one of the Northwest Quantum Nexus’ objectives may well be to bring one of those centers to our neck of the woods. Cantwell acknowledged that the $1.2 billion pales in comparison with the . “Are we going to spend as much as the Chinese? No, I don’t think we’re going to spend as much as the Chinese, but I think we’ll spend enough so that the people here in the United States can work collaboratively to get this done,” she said. Working collaboratively could well be one of the Pacific Northwest research community’s greatest strengths. The newly formed Northwest Quantum Nexus serves as an example: Microsoft, the University of Washington and the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are spearheading the initiative, but the more than 400 people who registered for this week’s summit at UW also include representatives of the region’s other universities as well as Boeing, Vulcan, Google and other tech companies. (No one from Nike, though.) “There’s so much collaboration in the Northwest, and I guess that’s what really makes me excited. … There’s so much innovation, but if you can’t implement it, then what’s the point?” Cantwell said. “One thing that we’re really good at here in the Pacific Northwest is, obviously we believe in science, and the fact that we collaborate very well across a lot of different disciplines to make those things work .”
Newly formed Northwest Quantum Nexus unites pioneers on the wild frontier of computing

Newly formed Northwest Quantum Nexus unites pioneers on the wild frontier of computing

11:56am, 18th March, 2019
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to employ quantum computing to develop new materials for chemical applications. (Microsoft Azure via YouTube) Experts in the weird and woolly field of quantum computing tend to concentrate on one slice of the challenge, whether it’s developing hardware, algorithms or applications — but in the region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a new consortium is going after the whole stack. We’re not talking about pancakes or sandwiches here. We’re talking about the, which is aiming to widen a network of quantum connections for researchers, developers and business leaders. The group, led by Microsoft Quantum, PNNL and UW, was in advance of its inaugural summit this week at the university. Quantum computing goes in a direction that’s different from the classical computing techniques that have ruled the tech world for decades. In contrast to the on-or-off, one-or-zero bits of today’s digital computers, tomorrow’s quantum computers juggle fuzzy “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously until the result is read out. Researchers say the technique could potentially crack types of problems that classical computers couldn’t touch, even if they ran their algorithms for the lifetime of the universe. Over the next five years, the field will be getting a $1.2 billion boost in federal funding, thanks to the . And that flood of funding and attention is energizing computer scientists across the country. The Northwest Quantum Nexus aims to build a cluster for quantum research and development in Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia that’s analogous to the Midwest’s , the Boston area’s or . “We have a nice juxtaposition of all the same ingredients for quantum expertise as well as all of the ingredients that make this a real hotbed for the tech industry,” , director of PNNL’s Advanced Computing, Mathematics and Data Division, told GeekWire last week. “Together, that’s a perfect storm for making this thing feasible.” , general manager of in Redmond, Wash., said the Nexus has a “unique focus.” “Other centers are focusing on different aspects of quantum information science,” she said. “If you think of the stack for a quantum computer, we have algorithms and software at the top, then we have materials and the qubit design at the bottom. What we’re doing with the Nexus is that sandwich. We’re focusing on the sandwich elements to drive development on the other aspects, to drive scalability and accelerate the field.” Although the Northwest Quantum Nexus is just getting started, the Pacific Northwest has been a nexus for quantum information science for a long time. at its Redmond headquarters, and it’s . Just this month, the company to forge connections with startups and developers who are dialed into the Q# programming language and Microsoft’s . The Nexus and the Network provide complementary channels for building the infrastructure for quantum computing. PNNL, meanwhile, has been working to apply quantum computing principles to the development of exotic materials. Those efforts take advantage of computational chemistry tools such as the . Last year, for a quantum computing chemistry project. The University of Washington has a whole range of research areas that can take advantage of quantum principles, ranging from the purely theoretical to applied engineering. The different threads of research have recently been knit together into an initiative called . The University of Washington’s Kai-Mei Fu, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Nathan Baker and Microsoft’s Krysta Svore are among the organizers of the Northwest Quantum Nexus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) All three keystone partners see the Nexus as a way to kick things up a notch by expanding public-private partnerships. “We’re not going to be able to address these research questions without multidisciplinary teams,” Baker said. “So some of what the Nexus needs to be doing is making connections. As a region, we want to be able to make it easier for the members of those multidisciplinary teams to find each other, find research problems, find opportunities and go after them.” For example, UW offered its first undergraduate-level class in quantum computing this quarter, with Microsoft computer scientists doing the teaching. , a UW associate professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering who’s also the co-chair of QuantumX, sees signs of a “whole paradigm shift in education.” “Most computer science departments don’t have people working in quantum information, and that has to change,” she said. “We need the brightest minds working in the field to take full advantage of the ‘quantum advantage.’ ” One of the best-known applications for quantum computing is in the security realm, either to crack encryption codes or to open the way for new methods of secure communications. That angle has gotten a lot of attention from the and from a . But Svore said the Nexus is focusing on other applications. “We don’t believe that the big commercial application is to go break codes, right?” she said. “We believe the big applications are to bring forward quantum solutions for businesses, quantum solutions for…” “… Materials science,” Fu said. “… Better batteries,” Baker added. “That’s the area,” Svore said. “Another unique focus for the Nexus is sustainability, , better materials. …” “Very Northwest,” Fu chimed in. “Yeah,” said Svore, laughing.
Northwest Quantum Nexus unites pioneers on the weird frontier of computing

Northwest Quantum Nexus unites pioneers on the weird frontier of computing

11:25am, 18th March, 2019
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to employ quantum computing to develop new materials for chemical applications. (Microsoft Azure via YouTube) Experts in the weird and woolly field of quantum computing tend to concentrate on one slice of the challenge, whether it’s developing hardware, algorithms or applications — but in the region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a new consortium is going after the whole stack. We’re not talking about pancakes or sandwiches here. We’re talking about the, which is aiming to widen a network of quantum connections for researchers, developers and business leaders. The group, led by Microsoft Quantum, PNNL and UW, is having its inaugural summit this week at the university. Quantum computing goes in a direction that’s different from the classical computing techniques that have ruled the tech world for decades. In contrast to the on-or-off, one-or-zero bits of today’s digital computers, tomorrow’s quantum computers juggle fuzzy “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously until the result is read out. Researchers say the technique could potentially crack types of problems that classical computers couldn’t touch, even if they ran their algorithms for the lifetime of the universe. Over the next five years, the field will be getting a $1.2 billion boost in federal funding, thanks to the . And that flood of funding and attention is energizing computer scientists across the country. The Northwest Quantum Nexus aims to build a cluster for quantum research and development in Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia that’s analogous to the Midwest’s , the Boston area’s or . “We have a nice juxtaposition of all the same ingredients for quantum expertise as well as all of the ingredients that make this a real hotbed for the tech industry,” , director of PNNL’s Advanced Computing, Mathematics and Data Division, told GeekWire last week. “Together, that’s a perfect storm for making this thing feasible.” , general manager of in Redmond, Wash., said the Nexus has a “unique focus.” “Other centers are focusing on different aspects of quantum information science,” she said. “If you think of the stack for a quantum computer, we have algorithms and software at the top, then we have materials and the qubit design at the bottom. What we’re doing with the Nexus is that sandwich. We’re focusing on the sandwich elements to drive development on the other aspects, to drive scalability and accelerate the field.” Although the Northwest Quantum Nexus is just getting started, the Pacific Northwest has been a nexus for quantum information science for a long time. at its Redmond headquarters, and it’s . Just this month, the company to forge connections with startups and developers who are dialed into the Q# programming language and Microsoft’s . The Nexus and the Network provide complementary channels for building the infrastructure for quantum computing. PNNL, meanwhile, has been working to apply quantum computing principles to the development of exotic materials. Those efforts take advantage of computational chemistry tools such as the . Last year, for a quantum computing chemistry project. The University of Washington has a whole range of research areas that can take advantage of quantum principles, ranging from the purely theoretical to applied engineering. The different threads of research have recently been knit together into an initiative called . The University of Washington’s Kai-Mei Fu, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Nathan Baker and Microsoft’s Krysta Svore are among the organizers of the Northwest Quantum Nexus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) All three keystone partners see the Nexus as a way to kick things up a notch by expanding public-private partnerships. “We’re not going to be able to address these research questions without multidisciplinary teams,” Baker said. “So some of what the Nexus needs to be doing is making connections. As a region, we want to be able to make it easier for the members of those multidisciplinary teams to find each other, find research problems, find opportunities and go after them.” For example, UW offered its first undergraduate-level class in quantum computing this quarter, with Microsoft computer scientists doing the teaching. , a UW associate professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering who’s also the co-chair of QuantumX, sees signs of a “whole paradigm shift in education.” “Most computer science departments don’t have people working in quantum information, and that has to change,” she said. “We need the brightest minds working in the field to take full advantage of the ‘quantum advantage.’ ” One of the best-known applications for quantum computing is in the security realm, either to crack encryption codes or to open the way for new methods of secure communications. That angle has gotten a lot of attention from the and from a . But Svore said the Nexus is focusing on other applications. “We don’t believe that the big commercial application is to go break codes, right?” she said. “We believe the big applications are to bring forward quantum solutions for businesses, quantum solutions for…” “… Materials science,” Fu said. “… Better batteries,” Baker added. “That’s the area,” Svore said. “Another unique focus for the Nexus is sustainability, , better materials. …” “Very Northwest,” Fu chimed in. “Yeah,” said Svore, laughing.
Microsoft’s quantum computing network takes one giant leap at Startup Summit

Microsoft’s quantum computing network takes one giant leap at Startup Summit

7:34pm, 28th February, 2019
Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo) REDMOND, Wash. — Quantum computing may still be in its infancy — but the is all grown up, fostered by in-house developers, research affiliates and future stars of the startup world. The network , during a Startup Summit that laid out the company’s vision for quantum computing and introduced network partners to Microsoft’s tools of the quantum trade. Quantum computing stands in contrast to the classical computer technologies that have held sway for more than a half-century. Classical computing is based on the ones and zeroes of bit-based processing, while quantum computing takes advantage of the weird effects of quantum physics. Quantum bits, or qubits, needn’t represent a one or a zero, but can represent multiple states during computation. The quantum approach should be able to solve computational problems that can’t easily be solved using classical computers, such as modeling molecular interactions or optimizing large-scale systems. That could open the way to world-changing applications, said Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Azure Hardware Systems Group. “We’re looking at problems like climate change,” Holmdahl said. “We’re looking at solving big food production problems. We think we have opportunities to solve problems around materials science, personal health care, machine learning. All of these things are possible and obtainable with a quantum computer. We have been talking around here that we’re at the advent of the quantum economy.” Todd Holmdahl, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Azure Hardware Systems Group, speaks during a Startup Summit kicking off the Microsoft Quantum Network. (Microsoft Photo) Representatives from 16 startups were invited to this week’s Startup Summit, which features talks from Holmdahl and other leaders of Microsoft’s quantum team as well as demos and workshops focusing on Microsoft’s programming tools. (The closest startup to Seattle is , based in Vancouver, B.C.) Over the past year and a half, Microsoft has called Q# (“Q-sharp”) as part of its , and has worked with researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and academic institutions around the world to lay the technical groundwork for the field. A big part of that groundwork is the development of , based on a topological architecture that builds error-correcting mechanisms right into the cryogenically cooled, nanowire-based hardware. Cutting down on the error-producing noise in quantum systems will be key to producing a workable computer. “We believe that our qubit equals about 1,000 of our competition’s qubits,” Holmdahl said. There’s lots of competition in the quantum computing field nowadays: , and are all working on similar technologies for a universal quantum computer, while Canada’s is taking advantage of a more limited type of computing technology known as quantum annealing. This week, that it said would reduce quantum noise and more than double the qubit count of its existing platform, from 2,000 linked qubits to 5,000. But the power of quantum computing shouldn’t be measured merely by counting qubits. The efficiency of computation and the ability to reduce errors can make a big difference, said Microsoft principal researcher Matthias Troyer. For example, a standard approach to simulating the molecular mechanism behind nitrogen fixation for crops could require 30,000 years of processing time, he said. But if the task is structured to enable parallel processing and enhanced error correction, the required runtime can be shrunk to less than two days. “Quantum software engineering is really as important as the hardware engineering,” Troyer said. Julie Love, director of Microsoft Quantum Business Development, talks about the promise of quantum computing at a Startup Summit on the Microsoft campus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Julie Love, director of Microsoft Quantum Business Development, said that Microsoft will start out offering quantum computing through Miicrosoft’s Azure cloud-based services. Not all computational problems are amenable to the quantum approach: It’s much more likely that an application will switch between classical and quantum processing — and therefore, between classical tools such as the C# programming language and quantum tools such as Q#. “When you work in chemistry and materials, all of these problems, you hit this ‘known to be unsolvable’ problem,” Love said. “Quantum provides the possibility of a breakthrough.” Love shies away from giving a firm timetable for the emergence of specific applications — but last year, Holmdahl predicted that commercial quantum computers would exist (Check back in 2023 to see how the prediction panned out.) The first applications could well focus on simulating molecular chemistry, with the aim of prototyping better pharmaceuticals, more efficient fertilizers, better batteries, more environmentally friendly chemicals for the oil and gas industry, and a new class of high-temperature superconductors. It might even be possible to address the climate change challenge by custom-designing materials that pull excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Love said quantum computers would also be well-suited for addressing optimization problems, like figuring out how to make traffic flow better through Seattle’s urban core; and for reducing the training time required for AI modeling. “That list is going to continue to evolve,” she said. Whenever the subject quantum computing comes up, cryptography has to be mentioned as well. It’s theoretically possible for a quantum computer to break the codes that currently protect all sorts of secure transactions, ranging from email encryption to banking protocols. Love said those code-breaking applications are farther out than other likely applications, due to the huge amount of computation resources that would be required even for a quantum computer. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to be concerned. “We have a pretty significant research thrust in what’s called post-quantum crypto,” she said. Next-generation data security is one of the hot topics addressed that was approved by Congress and the White House last December. Love said Microsoft’s have already gone through an initial round of vetting by the . “We’ve been working at this in a really open way,” she said. Like every technology, quantum computing is sure to have a dark side as well as a bright side. But it’s reassuring to know that developers are thinking ahead about both sides.