CM – Measuring the performance of a quantum computer is now even faster and more accurate


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December 20, 2021

from Sandia National Laboratories

What does a quantum computer have in common with a top draft pick in sports? Both have drawn a lot of attention from talent scouts. Quantum computers, experimental machines that can perform some tasks faster than supercomputers, are constantly being examined, like young athletes, for their potential to one day become a groundbreaking technology.

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Scientists-scouts now have their first tool to assess the ability of a future technology to perform realistic tasks and uncover its true potential and limitations.

A novel benchmark test being developed at Sandia National Laboratories predicts how likely it is that a quantum processor will execute a particular program without errors.

The so-called mirror circuit method, published today in Nature Physics, is faster and more accurate than conventional tests and helps scientists develop the technologies that are most likely to world’s first practical quantum computer that could significantly speed up research for medicine, chemistry, physics, agriculture and national security.

But according to the new research, conventional benchmark tests underestimate many quantum computer errors. This can lead to unrealistic expectations of how powerful or useful a quantum machine is. Mirror circuits offer a more accurate test method, according to the paper.

A mirror circuit is a computer routine that performs a series of calculations and then reverses them.

“In the quantum computing community, it’s common practice to just run random, disordered programs to use it to measure performance, and our results show that is not good, ”said computer scientist Timothy Proctor, a member of Sandia’s Quantum Performance Laboratory who participated in the research.

The new test method also saves time, the researchers will help to evaluate increasingly sophisticated machines. Most benchmark tests check for errors by executing the same set of instructions on a quantum machine and a conventional computer. If there are no errors, the results should be the same.

However, because quantum computers perform certain calculations much faster than conventional computers, researchers can wait a long time for normal computers to finish.

With a mirror circuit, however, the output should always be the same as the entrance or an intentional modification. So instead of waiting, scientists can immediately check the results of the quantum computer.

Proctor and his colleagues found that randomized tests overlook or underestimate the compound effects of errors. If a bug is amplified, it gets worse as the program progresses, like a wide receiver going the wrong way and further and further from where it should be as the game progresses.

By mimicking functional programs Sandia found that the end results often had larger discrepancies than randomized tests showed.

« Our benchmarking experiments have shown that the performance of current quantum computers on structured programs is much more variable than previously known, said Proctor. </ "By applying our method to current quantum computers, we have learned a lot about the errors that these particular devices suffer from – as different types of errors affect different programs to different degrees," said Proctor. "This is the first time that these effects have been observed in processors with many qubits. Our method is the first tool to study these error effects on a large scale."

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