Not logged in » Login
Feb 05 2019

The Power of Quantum-Inspired Computing: Journey of Digital Annealer (Part 2)


For most of us, the idea of quantum computing is akin to an exotic beast: Somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that it exists and that at some point in the future we might even be able to build proper machinery, which will be easily accessible and can solve real world problems that are unsolvable today. But what would you say if someone told you that it is possible to provide and utilize quantum-like capabilities and solve these problems in the here and now? Well, that would seem like this person had just claimed to have spotted Schrödinger's cat in the wild. This five-part blog will help us find out more.

In the first part of this series, we outlined a couple of core principles of quantum computing and ended up finding that in order to perform such operations, we have to rely on a completely different hardware architecture that uses subatomic particles and quantum bits, or qubits, to store information and carry out calculations. In the second installment, we will first look at some of the barriers that have long prevented ICT vendors from building adequate devices.

Obstacles to Quantum Computing
Contrary to what one might expect, some of these barriers or challenges appear to be pretty similar to the challenges IT departments are facing whenever a new type of hardware is introduced – only this time, there's a pinch of quantum added in, which makes proper implementation several orders of magnitude more complicated:

  • As laid out in the previous chapter, quantum devices rely on "a series of quantum-mechanical states" to encode and process information in so-called qubits. However, by their very nature these qubits are unstable, meaning that usually they do not last long enough in the quantum state to carry out any meaningful computation.
  • Likewise, these quantum-mechanical states, and thus the qubits, are very easily affected by changes in their environment. For example, any attempt to measure the physical properties of a particle in the state of quantum entanglement or superposition will cause this specific state to collapse. The same rule applies for any unintended outside interference, e.g. from magnetic fields, radiation, or even vibrations.
  • The fleeting nature of qubits also causes a massive accuracy problem: For one, they will revert from a (quantum-mechanical) state of superposition to a classical state very fast, resulting in too little coherent time to pinpoint one single result and higher probability of errors. Second, even if the quantum computer works as intended, any result it yields is only "highly likely" to be correct, as opposed to perfectly accurate in a digital system.
  • Correcting errors and inaccuracies is possible to some extent, but substantially takes away from the speed advantage that ICT firms and their customers had hoped for.

While there has been technical progress in the development of quantum computers – a fact we greatly appreciate – the reality is that developers did not get very far from a usability perspective. So today, where are we with regard to "true" quantum computers?

  1. The scale of qubit systems available in the market is not conducive to solving real world problems today, however still a step forward from where we were a couple of years ago so that it can be used for research purposes identified within an organization.
  2. From an infrastructure perspective, quantum computing is simply unaffordable for 'normal' users, as qubit systems need a very complex, unique environment and must be separated from the rest of an IT infrastructure in a massive, elaborate, and costly installation that operates at milli-Kelvin degrees, i.e. close to absolute zero (−273,15 °C). The purchase price and operating expenses for such a system therefore typically run within the multi-million dollar range.

Altogether, this means that counting on the first fully functional, moderately priced quantum device bears some similarities to a hunt for the great white whale: technically, an encounter may happen at any time, but one cannot exactly predict when it's due.

The Alternative: Quantum-Inspired Computing
These detriments notwithstanding, the above approach is currently championed by leading ICT firms such as Microsoft, Intel, Google and IBM, which are demonstrating their technical prowess in a long game to advance drug discovery, managing cities' traffic flows or similar undertakings. Others, like Fujitsu, are keener on looking at how the existing digital technology could be architected to help solve critical societal issues of today, and have therefore developed a different strategy.

At the core of this strategy is the idea to create a solution that brings capabilities akin to the ones described in these first two chapters to traditional data centers for solving the same societal real world problems (like drug discovery, traffic congestions, portfolio investment plans fool proof to financial crises, and many more) at a more moderate price. More precisely, our developers took a lead from quantum phenomena and found a way to emulate their properties and behavior patterns on conventional hardware – an approach we call Quantum-Inspired Computing. The result is a new technology named Digital Annealer that can either run as a cloud service or be implemented on premises to help solve complex combinatorial optimization problems. We will get to this in the following parts of our blog. Keep reading and get inspired to innovate.





Manju Annie Oommen

Dr. David Frith Snelling


About the Author:

Manju Annie Oommen

Sr. Manager – Product Marketing

About the second Author:

Dr. David Frith Snelling

Fujitsu Fellow and Program Director Artificial Intelligence, CTO Office, Fujitsu


Comments on this article

No comments yet.

Please Login to leave a comment.


Please login

Please log in with your Fujitsu Partner Account.


» Forgot password

Register now

If you do not have a Fujitsu Partner Account, please register for a new account.

» Register now