How a little known but essential operation in Quantum Computing helped achieve a major scientific breakthrough
Quantinuum's feed-forward functionality is worth getting to know
Quantinuum’s recent announcement about its breakthrough on topological qubits garnered headlines across both the specialist scientific media as well as those more broadly interested in the advances that will make quantum computing useful more quickly than anticipated. However, hidden in the details was a reference to a technology that is as rare as it is valuable. The fact is that the topological qubit that was generated could only have been done via Quantinuum’s H-Series quantum processors due to their various qualities and functions of which measurement and ‘feed-forward’ is critical.
As we know, great advances are often built on the back of little-known utilities - functions and tools that rarely get mentioned. These are sometimes technological constructs that might seem simple on the surface, but which are difficult (in the case of feed-forward make that “very difficult” to create), and without which critical advances would remain merely theoretical.
As detailed in two manuscripts that have been uploaded onto the pre-print repository, arXiv, Quantinuum researchers and their collaborators successfully demonstrated, for the first time, a large-scale implementation of a long-standing theory in quantum information science; namely the use of measurement and feed-forward (see below for a detailed explanation of what this means) to efficiently generate long-range entangled states.
The two experiments, conducted with research partners at the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of Sydney, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the University of California, Davis, used Quantinuum’s trapped ion quantum computers, Powered by Honeywell, to show how feed-forward enables success by dramatically reducing the resources required to produce highly-entangled quantum states and topologically ordered phases, one of the most exciting areas of research in modern physics.
Feed-forward uses selective measurements during the execution of a quantum circuit and adapts future operations depending on those measurement results. To be successful in running an adaptive quantum circuit, several challenging requirements must be met: (1) a select group of qubits must be measured in the middle of a circuit with high fidelity, and without accidentally measuring other qubits, and (2) the measurement results must be sent to a classical computer and quickly processed to create instructions to be fed-forward to the quantum computer on the fly - all of which must be done fast enough to prevent the active qubits from decohering.
Once these requirements are met, the feed-forward capabilities let quantum computers create long-range entangled states which are emerging as central to various branches of modern physics such as quantum error correction codes and the study of spin liquids in condensed matter. It is also the essential component of topological order and could enable the simulation of quantum systems beyond the reach of classical computation.
In the paper “Topological Order from Measurements and Feed-Forward on a Trapped Ion Quantum Computer”, Quantinuum, working with colleagues from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University use feed-forward to explore topologically ordered phases of matter.
Separately, a different team of scientists from Quantinuum, the University of Sydney, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the University of California, Davis, used feed-forward to explore adaptive quantum circuits in “Experimental Demonstration of the Advantage of Adaptive Quantum Circuits”.
Two of Quantinuum’s physicists who worked on both experiments, Henrik Dreyer and Michael Foss-Feig, offered some observations on the work.
“While it has been clear to theorists that feed-forward would be a useful primitive, doing it with low errors has turned out to be very challenging. The H-Series systems have made it possible to use this primitive efficiently,” said Henrik, managing director and scientific lead at Quantinuum’s office in Munich, Germany.
Michael, who is based at Quantinuum’s world-leading quantum computing laboratory outside of Denver, Colorado, also described feed-forward and adaptive quantum circuits as a jump toward meaningful simulations.
“This capability speeds up the timeline for new scientific discoveries,” he said.
These successful experiments proved that feed-forward operations reduce the quantum resources required for certain algorithms and are a valuable building block for more advanced research.
"I am really excited by the opportunities opened up by this demonstration: using wave-function collapse is a very powerful tool for preparing very exotic entangled states further down the road, where there are no good scalable alternatives," said Dr. Ruben Verresen, a physicist at Harvard University and a co-author of the topological order paper.
The authors note that “the primary technical challenge in implementing adaptive circuits is the requirement to perform partial measurements of a subset of qubits in the middle of a quantum circuit with minimal cross-talk on unmeasured qubits, return those results to a classical computer for processing, and then condition future operations on the results of that processing in real time.”
The paper describes how quantum hardware has now reached a state where adaptive quantum circuits are possible and can outperform unitary circuits. The experiment detailed in the paper “firmly establishes that given access to the same amount of quantum computational resources with respect to available gates and circuit depth, adaptive quantum circuits can perform tasks that are impossible for quantum circuits without feedback.”
Henrik and Michael noted that the adaptive circuit research provides concrete evidence not only that feed-forward works, but that it now works well enough to achieve tasks that would not be possible without it.
“We were trying to find a metric by which somebody can look at our data produced by a shallow adaptive circuit, and convince themselves it could not have been produced with a unitary circuit of the same depth,” Michael said. The metric proposed in the adaptive circuits paper achieved exactly that.
A good match: Trapped ion architecture and feed-forward
Demonstrating this technique required significant performance from the H1-1.
“It's a huge challenge to implement this in a way that works well,” Michael said.
Quantinuum’s H-Series has the capabilities that are crucial to this work: high fidelity gates, low state preparation and measurement (SPAM) error, low memory error, the ability to perform mid-circuit measurement, and all-to-all connectivity.
The feed-forward theory has been well-known for years but challenging to execute in practice, and as the paper states:
“While individual elements of this triad have been demonstrated in the context of error correction and topological order, combining all of these ingredients into one experimental platform has proven elusive since the inception of this idea more than a decade ago. Here, we demonstrate for the first time the deterministic, high-fidelity preparation of long-range entangled quantum states using a protocol with constant depth, using Quantinuum’s H-Series programmable Ytterbium ion trap quantum computer.”
The authors also note that “the all-to-all connectivity of the device was vital for the implementation of the periodic two-dimensional geometry and the conditional dynamics.”
In summary – these papers showcase state-of-the-art demonstrations of what can be done with quantum computers today but are only a preview of what will be done tomorrow.
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 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 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 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.
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.