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Addressing tomorrow’s computing challenges, today

As Moore’s Law starts to run out, we need to find new ways of making computers powerful enough to solve the world’s most complex digital problems. Dr. Dave Snelling, Fujitsu Fellow and Program Director Artificial Intelligence at Fujitsu, explains how the collaboration with the global Topcoder developer community paves the way to expanding quantum-inspired computing applications.

For many decades, Moore’s Law has ruled advances in computing power. First observed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, the law states that the number of silicon transistors on integrated circuits will double roughly every two years while the costs are halved – making computer chips exponentially more powerful and therefore driving digital innovation.

Now, the rate of progress according to Moore’s Law has reached saturation point, as transistors approach the limits of their miniaturization. Industry experts say Moore’s Law is running out and predict it will eventually stop in around 2025. At the same time, the digital era throws up ever more complex computing challenges that need to be solved. Some of the new data problems require much more computing power than even traditional supercomputers can provide.

Quantum computers – designed fundamentally differently to the binary computers we know, and therefore capable of much faster, more efficient and far more complex processing – hold exciting promises, but they are still very much in the research and development stage. What’s more, they have to be cooled down to cryogenic temperatures colder than outer space, which means they require a very expensive cooling system.

Quantum-inspired computing: bridging the gap

There is a very real and viable solution that sits in between classical computers and quantum computers, though. With the quantum-inspired Digital Annealer, Fujitsu has launched a breakthrough architecture that combines the advantages of both. It provides a rapid and affordable leap to solving highly complex problems, especially those that rely on finding the most optimal solution out of an unmanageably high number of possible combinations.

Examples would be finding the most efficient route through congested traffic, optimizing manufacturing sequences and factory logistics, or finding molecular similarities for drug discovery. These difficult ‘what if’ problems can’t be solved with a straightforward mathematical formula; instead, you need to run through endless possible combinations of data variables to establish which one is the best.

While it would take conventional computers a very long time to work out the answer, the architecture of the Digital Annealer can compare thousands of possible results at the same time, rather than in sequence. This enables it to solve the most complex and large-scale challenges –– in just seconds.

It does this by leveraging innovations in ultra-high-density circuit integration and high-performance processing, which are guided by key phenomena of quantum computing: superposition, quantum tunneling and entanglement. This unique design is still built on existing semiconductor technology, so unlike quantum computers, the Digital Annealer operates at normal temperatures.

Fostering global talent

The Digital Annealer’s unparalleled computing power is delivering benefits to our first proof-of-concept customers, including banks and automotive manufacturers. We are also making it accessible to all members of the world’s biggest programmer community, Topcoder.

This global network of more than 1.38 million talented developers and data scientists already helps numerous organizations solve some of the most advanced computing and data challenges by crowdsourcing. Together with Topcoder and its Japanese partner, TC3 K.K., Fujitsu has invited Topcoder members to take part in a quantum computing-related series of contests using a Digital Annealer infrastructure in the cloud. Participants get to develop algorithms and build solutions that address complex combinatorial optimization problems currently unsolvable by conventional computers in a practical timeframe.

Participants get an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge computing technology, by solving example challenges such as the world’s most difficult Sudoku. Three learning challenges, which took place in February and March, were designed to familiarize hundreds of participants with some basic principles of quantum computing and its programming methodology. The series will now culminate in a sponsored, two-week Marathon Match based on a specific real-world problem, with substantial prizes to be won for those who develop the best and fastest solutions.

Anyone can participate in this contest from anywhere in the world, by registering as a Topcoder member. We are excited to find out how these technologists will tackle the challenges set by the Marathon.

As we approach the post-Moore’s Law era, we will need talented, skilled and passionate people who aren’t afraid of pioneering new solutions built on breakthrough computing technologies. Communities such as Topcoder are where we find many of those talents. Together, we will be able to pave the way for the future of computing, unlock the potential of more complex challenges, and keep up the pace of digital progress.

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