For the past few years, manufacturers like Google, Intel, and IBM have been working on implementing universal quantum computers and demonstrating they can be used to perform useful work. Another company, D-Wave, has focused on building quantum annealers rather than a universal quantum computer. Quantum annealing can be used for a more limited subset of problems, but this approach also helped D-Wave be one of the first manufacturers to market.
Now, the firm is opening up its quantum computers to anyone who has ideas for how to use them to find a cure for COVID-19. D-Wave and a number of its customers, including Cineca, Denso, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Kyocera, MDR, Menten AI, NEC, OTI Lumionics, QAR Lab at LMU Munich, Sigma-i, Tohoku University, and Volkswagen, are all collectively offering assistance via engineering team access, advice on how to formulate problems for a D-Wave system, and solutions development.
A recent post on DWaveSys states:
We are making available free Leap resources to help fight COVID-19. This includes time on our quantum processing units (QPUs) and hybrid solvers, as well as access to a wealth of other resources to help you get started, including our online integrated development environment (IDE), community discussion forums, learning materials, and more.
Just last month, D-Wave announced Leap 2, a new quantum cloud service for building and deploying quantum applications (that’s the platform mentioned above). According to CEO Alan Baratz, D-Wave’s machines can be used to find new methods of diagnosing the disease, modeling its spread, evaluating potential drug combinations, and calculating supply distribution.
“The D-Wave system, by design, is particularly well-suited to solve a broad range of optimization problems, some of which could be relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baratz told VentureBeat. “Potential applications that could benefit from hybrid quantum/classical computing include drug discovery and interactions, epidemiological modeling, hospital logistics optimization, medical device and supply manufacturing optimization, and beyond.”
Quantum Computing Joins the Battle!
It’s not surprising to see quantum resources being brought to bear against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Classical computing resources dedicated to fighting COVID-19 have spiked dramatically in recent weeks. Here’s the latest from Folding@Home:
The reference to “x86 FLOPS” is an effort by the FAH team to synchronize all of their FLOP measurements into a single metric. After blowing through the exascale barrier last week, FAH growth appears to have tapered off, but don’t forget — it’s not too late to throw your hat into the ring and crunch some data to try and find potential weak spots in the virus. FAH is publishing regular updates on its efforts against COVID-19 and a number of new work units were recently made available for CPU-only configurations, so everyone can contribute even if you have an older GPU.
As for whether quantum computing can discover something specific about COVID-19 that classical machines can’t model, it’s very early days, and I don’t want to make that kind of assumption right now. It is possible, however, that combining quantum and classical solutions will still lead to a faster solution than classical computing alone, and right now, every single day counts.