A Quantinuum-led team has built the quantum programming tools for real-time magic state distillation on a quantum computer

October 24, 2023

Researchers at Quantinuum and Microsoft’s Azure Quantum used the Quantum Intermediate Representation (QIR) to demonstrate a magic state distillation protocol for the first time on quantum hardware – a key element necessary for universal, fault-tolerant quantum computing

Building a quantum computer that offers advantages over classical computers is the goal of quantum computing groups worldwide. A competitive quantum computer must be “universal”, requiring the ability to perform all operations already possible on a classical computer, as well as new ones specific to quantum computing. Of course, that’s just the beginning – it should also be able to do this in a reasonable amount of time, to deal effectively with noise from the environment, and to perform computations to arbitrary accuracy.

This is a lot to get right, and over the years quantum computer scientists have described ways to solve these often-overlapping challenges. To deal with noise from the environment and achieve arbitrary accuracy, quantum computers need to be able to keep going even as noise accumulates on the quantum bits, or qubits, which hold the quantum information. Such fault-tolerance may be achieved using quantum error correction, where ensembles of physical qubits are encoded into logical qubits and those are used to counteract noise and perform computational operations called gates. Unfortunately, no single quantum error correction code plays well with the goal of universality because all codes lack a complete universal set of fault-tolerant gates (the technical reason for this comes down to the way quantum gates are executed between logical qubits – the native gate set on error-corrected logical qubits are known by experts as transversal gates, and they do not include all the gates needed for universal quantum computing).

The solution to this obstacle to universality is a magic state, a quantum state which provides for the missing gate when error correcting codes are used. High fidelity magic states are achieved by a process of distillation, which purifies them from other noisier magic states. It is widely recognized that magic state distillation is one of the totemic challenges on the path towards universal, fault-tolerant quantum computing. Quantinuum’s scientists, in close collaboration with a team at Microsoft, set out to demonstrate the distillation process in real-time using physical qubits on a quantum computer for the first time.

The results of this work are available in a new paper, Advances in compilation for quantum hardware -- A demonstration of magic state distillation and repeat until success protocols (arXiv.org)

Magic state distillation

How does magic state distillation work? Imagine a factory, taking in many qubits in imperfect initial states at one end. Broadly speaking, the factory distills the imperfect states into an almost pure state with a smaller error probability, by sending them through a well-defined process over and over. In this case, the process takes in a group of five qubits. It applies a quantum error correcting code that entangles these five qubits, with four used to test whether the fifth, target qubit has been purified. If the process fails, the ensemble is discarded and the process repeats. If it succeeds, the newly distilled target qubit is kept and combined with four other successes to form a new ensemble, which then rejoins the process of continued purification. By undertaking this process many times, the purity of the magic state increases at each step, gradually moving towards the conditions required for universal, fault-tolerant quantum computing. Despite being the subject of theoretical exploration over decades, real-time magic state distillation had never been realized on a quantum computer. In typical pioneering style, the Quantinuum and Microsoft team decided to take on this challenge. But before they could get started, they recognized that their toolset would have to be significantly sharpened up.

Creating new tools for quantum programming

At the heart of magic state distillation is a highly complex repeating process, which requires state-of-the-art protocols and control flow logic built on a best-in-class programming toolset. The research team turned to Quantum Intermediate Representation (QIR) to simplify and streamline the programming of this complex quantum computing process.

QIR is a is a quantum-specific code representation based on the popular open-sourced classical LLVM intermediate language, with the addition of structures and protocols that support the maturation and modernization of quantum computing. QIR includes elements that are essential in classical computing, but which are yet to be standardized in quantum computing, such as the humble programming loop.

Loops, which often take forms like "for...next" or "do...while," are central to programming, allowing code to repeat instructions in a stepwise manner until a condition is met. In quantum computing, this is a tough challenge because loops require control flow logic and mid-circuit measurement, which are difficult to realize in a quantum computer but have been demonstrated in Quantinuum’s H1-1 machine, Powered by Honeywell. Loops are essential for realizing magic state distillation and it’s well-understood that LLVM is great at optimizing complex control flow, including loops. This made magic state distillation a natural choice for demonstrating a valuable application of QIR and making for a great example of the use of a classical technique in a quantum context.

Result: demonstrating a magic state distillation protocol

The team used Quantinuum’s H1-1 quantum computer – benefiting from industry-leading components such as mid-circuit measurement, qubit reuse and feed-forward – to make possible the quantum looping required for a magic state distillation protocol, and becoming the first quantum computing team ever to run a real-time magic state distillation protocol on quantum hardware.

Four ways to achieve a quantum computer programmable loop

Building on this success, the team designed further experiments to assess the potential of four methods for exploring the use of a quantum protocol called a repeat-until-success (RUS) circuit [1311.1074.pdf (arxiv.org)] to achieve a loop process. First, they hard-coded a loop directly into the extended OpenQASM 2.0, a widely used quantum assembly language, but which requires additional overhead to target advanced components on Quantinuum's very versatile H-Series quantum computer. Against this, they compared two alternative methods for coding a loop in a standard high-level programming language: controlled recursion, which was directed through both OpenQASM and through QIR; and a native for loop made possible within QIR.

The results were clear-cut: the hard-coded OpenQASM 2.0 loop performed as well as the theoretical prediction, maintaining high quality results after a number of loops, as did the natively-coded QIR for loop. The two recursive loops saw the quality of their results drop away fast as the loop limit was raised. But in a head-to-head between hard-coded OpenQASM and QIR, which converts high-level source code from many prominent and familiar languages into low-level machine code, QIR won hands-down on the basis of practicality.

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Figure 1: comparison of programmed loops by the survival fidelity of the target qubit in the X-basis

Martin Roetteler, Director of Quantum Applications at Microsoft, shared:  “this was a very exciting exploration of control flow logic on quantum hardware. In seeking to understand the capabilities of QIR to optimize programming structures on real hardware, we were rewarded with a clear answer, and an important demonstration of the capabilities of QIR.”

H2’s 32 qubits will power the next phase

In follow-up work, the team is now preparing to run a logical magic state protocol on the H2-1 quantum computer with its 32 high-fidelity qubits, and hopes to become the first group to successfully achieve logical magic state distillation. The features and fidelity offered by the H2 make it one of the best quantum computers currently capable of shooting for such a major milestone on the journey towards fault tolerance, while the current work demonstrates that, in QIR, the necessary control flow logic is now available to achieve it.

The paper discussed in this post was authored by Natalie C. Brown, John P. Campora III, Cassandra Granade, Bettina Heim, Stefan Wernli, Ciaran Ryan-Anderson, Dominic Lucchetti, Adam Paetznick, Martin Roetteler, Krysta Svore and Alex Chernoguzov.

Kaniah Konkoly-Thege

Kaniah is Chief Legal Counsel and SVP of Government Relations for Quantinuum. In her previous role, she served as General Counsel, Honeywell Quantum Solutions. Prior to Honeywell, she was General Counsel, Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies, LLC, and Senior Attorney, U.S. Department of Energy. She was Lead Counsel before the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Kaniah holds a J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law and B.A., International Relations and Spanish from the College of William and Mary.

Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is Chief Information Officer for Quantinuum. In his previous role, he served as CIO for Honeywell Quantum Solutions and led a cross-functional team responsible for Information Technology, Cybersecurity, and Physical Security. For Honeywell, Jeff has held numerous management and executive roles in Information Technology, Security, Integrated Supply Chain and Program Management. Jeff holds a B.S., Computer Science, University of Arizona. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, attaining the rank of Commander.

Matthew Bohne

Matthew Bohne is the Vice President & Chief Product Security Officer for Honeywell Corporation. He is a passionate cybersecurity leader and executive with a proven track record of building and leading cybersecurity organizations securing energy, industrial, buildings, nuclear, pharmaceutical, and consumer sectors. He is a sought-after expert with deep experience in DevSecOps, critical infrastructure, software engineering, secure SDLC, supply chain security, privacy, and risk management.

Todd Moore

Todd Moore is the Global Vice President of Data Encryption Products at Thales. He is responsible for setting the business line and go to market strategies for an industry leading cybersecurity business. He routinely helps enterprises build solutions for a wide range of complex data security problems and use cases. Todd holds several management and technical degrees from the University of Virginia, Rochester Institute of Technology, Cornell University and Ithaca College. He is active in his community, loves to travel and spends much of his free time supporting his family in pursuing their various passions.

John Davis

Retired U.S. Army Major General John Davis is the Vice President, Public Sector for Palo Alto Networks, where he is responsible for expanding cybersecurity initiatives and global policy for the international public sector and assisting governments around the world to prevent successful cyber breaches. Prior to joining Palo Alto Networks, John served as the Senior Military Advisor for Cyber to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and served as the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy.  Prior to this assignment, he served in multiple leadership positions in special operations, cyber, and information operations.