Amazon joins supercomputer race with new ‘quantum computing‘ service



Amazon has joined the supercomputer race with a new ‘quantum computing‘ service that it hopes will help solve complex tasks in minutes or seconds. Stock image
Amazon has joined the supercomputer race with a new ‘quantum computing‘ service that it hopes will help solve complex tasks in minutes or seconds. Stock image

Adrian Weckler

Amazon has joined the supercomputer race with a new ‘quantum computing‘ service that it hopes will help solve complex tasks in minutes or seconds.

The service, Amazon Braket, will see the the company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) enter into competition with Google, IBM and Microsoft to seize control over what could be a breakthrough in computer technology in the near future.

Quantum computing promises to speed up today’s tasks by hundreds of times.

In October, Google said that it had used a quantum computer to solve in minutes a complex problem that would take today’s most powerful supercomputer thousands of years to crack.

As such, the technology is not only of interest to big companies, but also to governments and defence-related entities in the field of cybersecurity.

Amazon is promising to make powerful quantum computing services available over the web, compared to rivals’ focus on installing hardware. To do this, it is hooking up with partners such as D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti, companies that will do the heavy lifting on the hardware end with services then channeled through to AWS customers.

“Amazon Braket is a fully managed AWS service, with security & encryption baked in at each level,” said AWS chief evangelist Jeff Barr, announcing the service at the company’s annual ‘Re:Invent’ conference.

“This new service is designed to let you get some hands-on experience with qubits and quantum circuits. You can build and test your circuits in a simulated environment and then run them on an actual quantum computer.”

For decades, computer scientists have sought to harness quantum physics, laws governing the behavior of particles that are smaller than atoms and can simultaneously exist in different states.

Quantum bits, or qubits, can be set to one and zero at the same time, unlike today’s computer bits that are either ones or zeros. This superposition property multiplies exponentially as qubits become entangled with each other, meaning the more qubits connected, the vastly more powerful a quantum computer becomes.

But there is a catch: Quantum researchers need to cool qubits to about absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius or -460 degrees Fahrenheit) to limit vibration – or “noise” – that causes errors in calculations.

“If you have been in IT for any length of time, you know that Moore’s Law has brought us to the point where it possible to manufacture memory chips that store 2 tebibytes on a thumb drive,” said AWS evangelist Jeff Barr.

“The physical and chemical processes that make this possible are amazing, and well worth studying. Unfortunately, these processes do not apply directly to the manufacture of devices that contain qubits.

The largest quantum computers contain about 50 qubits. These computers are built on several different technologies, but seem to have two attributes in common. They are scarce and they must be run in carefully controlled physical environments.”

The US and Chinese governments have led in the burgeoning quantum technology field, pledging billions of dollars in funding to corporate and state researchers to fast-track quantum development and mitigate possible issues, including the tech’s expected ability to break digital encryption.

“Today’s implementations of public key cryptography are secure because factoring large integers is computationally intensive,” said Barr.

“Depending on key length, the time to factor — and therefore break — keys ranges from months to forever.

However, when a quantum computer with enough qubits is available, factoring large integers will become instant and trivial.”

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