Japan’s Riken Research Institute is working on bringing quantum computing technology into its Fugaku supercomputer to improve performance and tackle complex problems faster than would otherwise be possible. Fugaku is the second-fastest supercomputer in the world but is expected to be eclipsed by a spate of exascale machines coming online this year.
The aim is to incorporate quantum computing hardware into Fugaku by 2025 and enable Japanese companies to compete in the development of cutting-edge drugs, materials and science where rapid analysis of large data sets is required.
Fugaku, which has a peak petaflop rate of 537 is competing with the next generation of supercomputers including Frontier from the US which has a rate of 1,686 petaflops, putting it into the exascale of supercomputing. There are at least two additional exaflop machines due to come online this year from the US and Europe that will push Fugaku further down the rankings.
Quantum computers can be up to 100 million times faster than even the fastest supercomputers but current machines require extremely cold environments, are vulnerable to errors and are unstable, which makes them unsuitable for anything but the most niche and restricted uses.
Most experts predict we are about a decade away from true quantum computing with millions of available qubits and low-error rates, although Google predicts it will have a fault-tolerant quantum computer online by the end of this decade and others, such as IBM and British start-up Universal Quantum are working on rapid scaling by stitching quantum processing units together.
However, to get a more rapid response and use from this new technology today, before million-plus qubit machines are ready, companies are turning to hybrid solutions, with IBM planning its own quantum supercomputer called System Two that will allow interaction with classical computers and be accessible through a hybrid cloud. This will allow developers and engineers “to seamlessly integrate quantum and classical workflows”.
Linking Fugaku to a quantum computer
Riken plans to establish a similar communications link between Fugaku and a quantum computer in development in Japan by Fujitsu that is expected to be available commercially this year. While it will initially be a 64-qubit machine, putting it on par with Google but below IBM's best offering, Fujitsu predicts it will have 1,000 qubits by 2026.
Fujitsu is working with the Riken research institute to link the two machines as a way to overcome the inherent weakness of current quantum computers, which are prone to errors and unstable.
This will provide a speed boost to the supercomputer and allow the quantum computer to hand off tasks it isn’t currently well-suited for. Only core calculations will be offloaded to the quantum machine, then Fugaku will organise and reinforce the various outputs to find the right solution.
The first prototype of the hybrid machine will be set up in Japan by the end of March this year in the city of Wako near Tokyo and the first real-world projects will be in partnership with Toyota, Hitachi and Sony to explore real-world requirements for hybrid algorithms.
There will be a study throughout the year to work out different calculation methods and tools that make the transfer of data between quantum and classical computers seamless and most efficient, including building suitable algorithms to spread the workload.
The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is already looking at what will replace Fugaku and has started accepting applications for Fugaku NEXT.