Intel and Irish supercomputer group aim for a first in quantum computing

6 Mar 2019

Image: © beebright/

Quantum computing project to be the first of its kind in Ireland and potentially the world.

The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) has received a €150,000 cash injection from Intel and Enterprise Ireland to work on a new collaborative quantum computing project.

The project will aim to produce results on Intel’s software quantum simulator for a problem in natural language processing (NLP), and it will be the first collaboration of its kind in Ireland, and potentially worldwide.

‘This is a significant win for Ireland, as it demonstrates an effective ecosystem that encourages and supports companies – regardless of their stature – to undertake really exciting and novel R&D projects’

Recently, ICHEC, which operates under the aegis of the National University of Ireland Galway, has identified potential in developing programming expertise on quantum platforms.

ICHEC will work on a variety of quantum computing platforms – hardware devices and software simulators – and develop quantum software on them by leveraging the expertise that they have in a plethora of application domains.

Dr Venkatesh Kannan, who leads ICHEC’s novel technologies activity, said that it is important to design for the future today.

“With the immediate availability of software quantum simulators and small-scale quantum hardware testbeds, it is essential that we develop the software ecosystem and programming expertise to target quantum platforms. It is crucial to do this simultaneously with ongoing efforts to develop larger-scale, reliable and commercially deployable quantum computers in five to 10 years,” Kannan said.

Intel goes qHiPSTER

The new collaboration will use Intel’s quantum simulator, the Quantum High-Performance Software Testing Environment (qHiPSTER), which has been deployed on the Irish national supercomputer, Kay.

The collaboration will conduct research in NLP, the computing field involved with the interactions between computers and human languages.

qHiPSTER is a distributed high-performance implementation of a quantum simulator on a classical computer. It can simulate general single-qubit gates and two-qubit controlled gates. It can perform a number of single-node and multinode optimisations, including vectorisation, multi-threading and cache-blocking, as well as overlapping computation with communication. It can simulate quantum circuits of up to 40 qubits.

In particular, the project will focus on an aspect of NLP known as the distributional compositional semantics model, which describes how information flows between words in a sentence to determine the meaning. These algorithms have been shown to offer significant improvements to the quality of results in NLP, particularly for more complex sentences.

However, the main challenge in its implementation is the need for large classical computational resources – supercomputers – which is where the potential power of quantum computing comes in.

Based on a proposal by ICHEC, Intel deemed the project of high value to its operations in Ireland and worldwide.

“This project builds on a longstanding technology partnership between Intel and ICHEC. Consistently, we aspire through this partnership to new knowledge and methods – in this case to determine and demonstrate how an existing quantum algorithm for a specific family of NLP problems can be translated into the Intel quantum simulator’s programming paradigm, and implemented,” explained Brian Quinn, director of research at Intel Labs Europe.

Kannan added that the overarching objective of the quantum programming efforts at ICHEC is to be early programmers of the different quantum platforms that are out there, and practically understand the types and sizes of problems that they can currently solve with them.

Sufian Al Aswad, centre manager at ICHEC, added: “This is a significant win for Ireland, as it demonstrates an effective ecosystem that encourages and supports companies – regardless of their stature – to undertake really exciting and novel R&D projects.”

Updated, 1.48pm, 6 March 2019: This article was updated to clarify that the quantum simulator qHIPSTER is from Intel, not ICHEC.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years