DARPA Aims for Quantum-Computing Benchmarks in New Program
(GovernmentCioMedia) A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative is looking in a full picture of how quantum computing will shape the next 30 years of computing.
In April 2021, the agency embarked on a new initiative to support the development of quantum computers. Called the Quantum Benchmarking program, the effort aims to establish key quantum-computing metrics and then make those metrics testable.
“It’s really about developing quantum computing yardsticks that can accurately measure what’s important to focus on in the race toward large, fault-tolerant quantum computers,” Joe Altepeter, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said in an agency announcement.
Historically, the U.S. has invested heavily in quantum science research, but it has not had a full national strategy to coordinate those efforts. The December 2018 National Quantum Initiative Act kickstarted the federal approach to accelerate quantum research and development for an initial five-year period.
DARPA is taking a long-term “high risk, high reward” approach with its initiative, looking “30 years into the future, knowing that there’s a risk of getting the wrong answer,” Altepeter told GovernmentCIO Media & Research. In theory, the agency’s early research will help in the development of fault-tolerant quantum computers.
Developing metrics would also help quantify and understand how transformative large quantum computers could be. While these fault-tolerant quantum computers will be difficult, if not impossible, to build, Altepeter said that DARPA will examine the ways agencies and industry could leverage some of the capabilities.
ltepeter noted that DARPA started this program to better understand, quantitatively, the impact of quantum computers decades down the road.
“[Quantum computers] could be transformative and the most important technology we’ve ever seen, or they can be totally useless and these gigantic paperweights that are sitting in labs across the country. That window of potential surprise is the key. That’s the kind of surprise that DARPA cannot allow to exist,” said Altepeter. “It’s our job to make sure that we eliminate those kinds of surprises — hence why we wanted to do this program.”