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August 16, 2013

NASA Examines Quantum Artificial Intelligence

D-Wave Quantum Computer

 Quantum Computing
The new NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) has the goal to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration.

NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) has been introduced via a new website.  The program was announced earlier this year, in cooperation with Google. QuAIL is the American space agency's new hub for an experiment to assess the potential of quantum computers to perform calculations that are difficult or impossible using conventional supercomputers.

The QuAIL team aims to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration.  For now, the concentration is more on fundamental research.

The hope is that quantum computing will vastly improve a wide range of tasks that can lead to new discoveries and technologies, and which may significantly change the way we solve real-world problems.

Initiating their work with the D-Wave Two quantum computer, NASA’s QuAIL team will will evaluate various quantum computing approaches to help address NASA challenges. Initial work will focus on theoretical and empirical analysis of quantum annealing approaches to difficult optimization problems.

The team is also studying how the effects of noise, imprecision in the quantum annealing parameters, and thermal processes affect the efficacy and robustness of quantum annealing approaches to these problems. Over the next five years, the research team will also develop quantum AI algorithms, problem decomposition and hardware embedding techniques, and quantum-classical hybrid algorithms.

quantum computer

Quantum computing is based on quantum bits or qubits. Unlike traditional computers, in which bits must have a value of either zero or one, a qubit can represent a zero, a one, or both values simultaneously. For NASA's researchers, representing information in qubits allows the information to be processed in ways that have no equivalent in classical computing, taking advantage of phenomena such as quantum tunneling and quantum entanglement. It has been suggested that quantum computers may theoretically be able to solve certain problems in a few days that would take millions of years on a classical computer.

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NASA is exploring the potential of quantum computing—and quantum annealing algorithms in particular—to aid in the many challenging computational problems involved in NASA missions.

One initial target application area the QuAIL team will be exploring is related to the NASA Kepler mission’s search for habitable, Earth-sized exoplanets.

The complex computational task of identifying and validating the transit signals of smaller planets as they orbit their host stars is currently based on heuristic algorithms (designed to find approximate solutions when classic methods don’t find exact solutions), implying that some planets could remain undiscovered due to this computational limitation. Using a quantum computer to perform Kepler’s data-intensive search for transiting planets among the more than 150,000 stars in the spacecraft’s field of view has the potential to provide a unique, complementary approach to the task of discovering potential new Earth-like exoplanets.

Another early target application area the team will explore is in the area of planning and scheduling. Determining the very best use of limited resources during space missions—such as time and power—can require hours, days or even weeks to solve with classical algorithms. Automated planners have their origins in robotics and have been used extensively in space applications. 

Some examples of these applications developed at NASA Ames include automated planners for the ongoing Mars Curiosity mission and software that helps optimize operations of the International Space Station’s solar arrays. NASA researchers are mapping planning problems from a variety of areas, including planetary rover exploration, to forms suitable to be run on quantum computing systems.

SOURCE  NASA QuAIL via Geordie Rose

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