Apps and Speed: The Next Wave of Quantum Computing Research

Since the launch of NTT Research in July 2019, the Physics & Informatics (PHI) Lab has initiated ten joint research projects with seven universities, one U.S. government agency and one quantum computing software company. This portfolio of fundamental research is part of the PHI Lab’s long-range goal to redesign – if not radically upgrade – physics-based computers, both classical and modern.

In the latest two agreements, the PHI Lab has expanded its scope from theoretical and exploratory research to applications and performance. In its recently announced work with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the PHI Lab is targeting two applications for the Coherent Ising Machine (CIM): compressed sensing and drug discovery; and in its agreement with Caltech, it is aiming to develop the world’s fastest, highly miniaturized CIM.

Drug discovery and compressed sensing are considered appropriate applications for the CIM, an information processing platform based on quantum oscillator networks, because it is purpose-built to solve combinatorial optimization problems. The search for effective drugs involves an extraordinarily large number of potential matches between medically appropriate molecules and target proteins responsible for a specific disease. In fields such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), compressed sensing can deliver highly efficient results by discarding large amounts of data with no useful information. Both applications can be framed in terms of finding the combination of variables that optimizes a value (e.g., matched pairs of proteins and molecules) from among a very large but discrete number of options. This five-year project will be conducted with independent laboratories in the Tokyo Institute of Technology School of Computing and involve approximately ten researchers. 

The work with Caltech’s Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science involves the joint development of a very high-speed, miniature CIM, consisting of a 100 Ghz pump laser source and an on-chip optical parametric oscillator (OPO) device. This four-and-a-half-year agreement anticipates that Caltech will develop the pump laser, while the PHI Lab will work on the OPO. (The PHI Lab has prior, ongoing joint research with Caltech through an agreement announced in November 2019.)

Both projects aspire to break new ground. The application-oriented work will enable NTT Research “to explore new ways to use the network by better understanding the requirements of a CIM,” said PHI Lab Director, Yoshihisa Yamamoto. “The work with Caltech will advance our understanding of the CIM’s capabilities, map with ongoing and related work with other institutions, provide new demonstrations of this awesomely powerful new information system and, we hope, set standards for the CIM’s speed and size.”

Both agreements shine a light on the importance of academic collaborations when conducting research designed to Upgrade Reality. By working with these prestigious academic institutions, our PHI Lab is taking a few steps closer toward achieving its mission to build simple, efficient and practical solutions for real-world problems in our information-intensive society.