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IonQ Joins DARPA Quantum Benchmarking Team

A group of private companies and universities, led by enterprise quantum software company Zapata Computing, has received a multi-million dollar award from The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to fund a quantum benchmarking project. IonQ is the only collaborator in this multi-year award that makes quantum hardware.

DARPA’s primary focus for this initiative is benchmarking and resource estimation. DARPA is concerned that the current understanding of quantum computer performance is too heavily siloed within businesses and institutions that keep their work secret. They would like to be able to compare the performance of different systems in order to assess the return on investment for quantum computing.

As Joe Altepeter, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, was quoted on DARPA’s blog: “building a useful quantum computer is really hard, and it's important to make sure we're using the right metrics to guide our progress towards that goal. If building a useful quantum computer is like building the first rocket to the moon, we want to make sure we're not quantifying progress toward that goal by measuring how high our planes can fly."

According to the blog post, DARPA intends to use benchmarking to predict how useful quantum computers will be by solving three problems:

First, they want to establish metrics by bringing in people who are experts in the systems and applications that quantum computers could replace. They will make sure that the benchmarks test performance that users will actually need.

Second, they need to find ways of testing the metrics in ways that scale as quantum computers begin to do things that classical computers cannot do. In the past, accuracy of quantum computation has often been tested by running the same program on very powerful and trusted classical computers and comparing the results. How is that going to work when the classical computer can’t keep up anymore?

Finally, DARPA will use those metrics and tests to estimate the quantum and classical computing resources that will be required for various tasks.

This the same line of inquiry and customer need that IonQ identified when developing the Algorithmic Qubits (#AQ) benchmark. IonQ is also a strong advocate for more open benchmarks in enterprise quantum computing and is a member of the QED-C Standards and Performance Metrics Technical Advisory Committee, a consortium that helps develop benchmarks for the industry at large.

We’ve been asking the same questions and engaging with the rest of the quantum community to find answers, and we consider this DARPA award an extension of IonQ’s open, rigorous spirit. We’re excited to bring what we’ve learned already, and work with and learn from DARPA, Zapata, and our other collaborators to bring even more clarity to our nascent industry.

DARPA dates back to 1958, when President Eisenhower created the Agency in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, and has helped to shape modern technology in ways that go far beyond the military applications that the Agency’s name implies. The RNA vaccine technology that would become the cornerstone for COVID-19 vaccines, GPS, the internet, weather satellites, personal computers, voice interfaces, the computer mouse and modern wind turbines can all trace their origins to DARPA through partnerships, research, and awards like the one granted last week.

Quantum computing has the potential to accelerate research across many of the other technologies that DARPA is interested in, such as materials sciences, communications, batteries, logistics and circuit design. Whether it’s spacecraft, robotics, or climate science, quantum computers could become an increasingly-relevant enabler of a broad swath of DARPA’s most exciting initiatives.