UTS launches quantum programming environment

Features compiler and verification tools

As great strides are made towards the creation of physical quantum computers, a team of researchers at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has launched a quantum programming environment to help developers get to grips with their quirks and complexity.

While a number of quantum programming platforms have been developed since the 1990s, the Q∣SI⟩ platform – named after the Centre for Quantum Software and Information where the researchers are based – includes a compiler and a chain of tools to simulate quantum computations, optimise circuits and verify programs.

“The theory has developed over more than 10 years, but since last year we wanted to try some practice, to represent the theory and to show the community how it works and what it can be used for,” the centre’s Shusen Liu told Computerworld.

The platform has four main elements: A quantum simulation engine, an analysis module, verification module, and compiler. It uses a quantum extension of the ‘while-language’ – developed by UTS’ Mingsheng Ying, co-author of the platform’s accompanying paper – which is embedded in the .Net framework.

“As happened with classical computing, once quantum computers are commercialised, programmers will need a platform that can express and implement quantum algorithms without considering the trivialities of their circuits,” Shusen said.

“Such a platform will be even more helpful for quantum programming than in classical computing because physically implementing quantum algorithms in a quantum system is somewhat counterintuitive. Using a platform like ours could help programmers understand some of these features, which may help to avoid some of the errors,” he added.

The complete platform is available now on GitHub, is Windows compatible and will support Linux and OS X in the future. The group will be providing APIs for advanced use cases soon.

Cannot wait for hardware

Q∣SI⟩ joins a growing number of public quantum languages and environments.

In 2016, IBM created its QASM programming language for direct construction of quantum computing routines. Last year it launched a lightweight quantum API and SDK to allow connection to the backend of the Quantum Experience, execution of the QASM code, and return of the results, from Python scripts.

In December last year Microsoft launched a preview of its Quantum Development Kit made up of: a quantum programming language Q#, local and Azure hosted quantum simulators and a GitHub library of quantum focused code.

Microsoft included a local simulator in the kit to enable full debugging support, including the setting of breakpoints. The kit includes a trace simulator to help developers optimise code to run on a quantum computer and estimate the cost of using Microsoft’s cloud-based 40-qubit simulator.

“While other platforms do have their advantages, the advantage of Q∣SI⟩ is its potential to connect different platforms together to explore quantum algorithms,” Shusen said.

"Microsoft is starting a new journey of quantum language with Q# after their first try called LIQUi|> while IBM is constructing a historic quantum cloud model. Q|SI> is on the road towards bringing quantum research and development toolsets for general users as classical programming,” he added.

Although a physical quantum many years away, UTS Professor Minsheng Ying speaking to Computerworld last year, explained work on the software side couldn’t wait.

“We cannot wait until they have the hardware,” adds Ying. “Designing and implementing a quantum programming language and environment is huge. It takes years. If we wait until the machine is there, other people will definitely be there.”

“People say if you are doing this science, you must foresee the next 20 years,” he added.

The QSI centre, based within the university's cheesegrater building in Ultimo, was launched in late 2016, spun out of a lab within the Centre for Quantum Computation and Intelligent Systems, which began in 2008.

Its areas of focus include quantum programming and verification, quantum algorithms, quantum applications for artificial intelligence, cryptography and security as well as identifying other tasks that demonstrate ‘quantum supremacy’ over conventional computers.

UTS is one of four universities seeking to establish a Sydney Quantum Academy along with the University of Sydney, UNSW and Macquarie University.

The NSW government this month announced it would be putting $500,000 towards the development of a proposal for the academy, which will support postgraduate training and research, attract global talent, and “assist the translation of fundamental research into high-tech, value-added jobs in the Sydney basin”.

The universities are due to detail the proposed academy to the NSW government in August.