Fast and accurate decision-making is critical to making the best use of defense and security resources and ultimately keeping people safe. And while people are an important part of the decision-making process, scenarios are increasingly complex for people alone in a fast-paced world.
The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), has a mission to advance UK through the development and application of new or innovative science and technology. PA Consulting has worked with Dstl and the Ministry of Defense (COURAGE) over many years on a range of new techniques to create an understanding of its operational challenges.
PA’s previous experience in operational analysis, the mathematics of decision-making, applied physics and quantum computing techniques has enabled them to identify the opportunity for a new approach to using machines to support human decision-making. The solutions PA proposed were rooted in a hybrid of classical and quantum computing techniques transferred from their experts in the financial sector and applied to defense-related challenges.
Funded by COURAGEs Defense and Security Accelerator (DASA) – the government organization that finds and funds exploitable innovation for a safer future – PA created prototype tools to help make better decisions, faster while maintaining the essentials of human decision-making.
Future developments of these tools are expected to play a key role in improving many decision-making processes worldwide COURAGE, reduce risk, optimize resources and ultimately keep people safer. This work also helps in positioning UK at the forefront of practical development of quantum algorithms.
rector at DstlDr Martyn Fletcher said:
We suspected that quantum computing had potential but we needed to put this in a military context and together with PA Consulting they are helping to provide the right approach to practically evaluate the potential in the short term from both a quantum and defense operational point of view.
The work has:
- applied advanced quantum principles to the challenge of making operational decisions better, faster and with more human impact
- created real-world demonstrations of the potential of today’s quantum computers to meet today’s military operational challenges
- improved the quality of decision-making by providing a tool that enables people to quickly explore the trade-offs involved in decision-making
Enables faster operational decisions in a complex environment
As science arm of COURAGE, Dstls role is to help COURAGE apply science and technological innovation to strengthen the country’s defense and security. Dstl is aware of the need to improve the quality and speed of decision-making in an increasingly complex business environment, and therefore needs ideas on how disruptive technology can provide solutions.
Quantum technology is a rapidly growing field of mathematics, physics and engineering. One branch, quantum computing, enables agile decision-making by identifying an optimal course of action by testing all scenarios and outcomes simultaneously. This cannot be done with conventional computer tools.
Paul Martin, PA quantum technology expert elaborates:
What we needed to show is that the potential of quantum computing can be exploited and that this new disruptive technology can begin to address today’s optimization and operational challenges, regardless of market sector.
To fully meet such challenges, very significant improvements must be made in the hardware and software.
Apply disruptive technology to real challenges
PA has worked with Dstl and military end users to define challenges where quantum computing can make a significant improvement to today’s problems. To achieve this, PA brought a unique and distinct mix of expertise to the challenge, combining expertise in operational analysis with physics, mathematics and quantum expertise. In parallel, PA leveraged its experience in helping companies in the financial sector make very safe and quick decisions.
Realizing the potential of quantum computing
One way to understand what challenges the quantum computer can solve is to test and learn. PA, along with Dstl and its military advisors identified 22 possible use cases and narrowed these down to an initial 2 to explore the possibilities.
The resulting innovation was a hybrid of classical computing and quantum computing solutions hosted via Amazon Braket – Amazon’s quantum computing service. The two selected use cases were to answer the questions “where is the best place to place communications assets to ensure a resilient network?”, and “how best to use limited resources, given their limitations, against a to-do list?” These are both examples of solving problems that quickly scale to a complexity beyond the capabilities of humans or classic computer solutions.
The next step was to understand how COURAGE operational challenges can be programmed into the computer. Quantum computing software is comparable in maturity to classical computing in the 1960s – this required PA to program very differently, converting the problem definition into the mathematical formulation required for a quantum computer. The instructions were then forwarded to the Braket service on the cloud to run the calculation on today’s hardware. The result was a hybrid solution with data formulated and presented by the classical computer, but with calculations performed using quantum techniques – making the most of the capabilities of both forms of computing.
This hybrid classical/quantum method allowed COURAGE users to make an effective exploration of trade-offs and produce a wide range of solutions from which to choose. This provided the human impact essential to good decision making and enabled Dstl leaders to communicate to their teams the reasons and the care they took to make the decisions.
Make the most of limited resources
In terms of resource allocation, the problem is already extremely complex, changing goals, different resources, varying tasks and appropriate timing to reach each solution successfully. Because of its complexity, this is a task that requires the balance between computing and human experience. The team therefore challenged humans to beat the hybrid classical/quantum solution. The feedback from this test was simple: today’s quantum computers make decision-making better and faster.
Supported by this evidence, PA enabled expert defense planners to quickly identify a range of good decisions and then, using their experience, select the most operationally applicable and resilient.
The two cases the team considered can be applied to a range of possibilities, including routing, scheduling, and pattern discovery, in addition to other scheduling and resource placement tasks.
Placement of UK at the cutting edge
Together with DstlPA helps with positioning COURAGE at the forefront of harnessing developments in quantum technology; this work has shown that today’s Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) process engineering can improve complex decision making. Key decision paths have been made better and faster as a result of utilizing the 2 test cases.
Dstl will continue to invest further in quantum computing solutions and hardware. This work will help mature real-world use cases and develop additional applications that will ultimately save time, money and lives by making better decisions, faster.
The work has also opened up a valuable and strategically significant opportunity for UK to become a world leader in sectors beyond defence.
Stephen Till, Senior Fellow at Dstl said:
The two use cases PA has explored have shown that quantum benefits can be derived even with today’s NISQ processor technology.
With further developments in system architectures and hardware expected, the work has increased our confidence that quantum information processing will help solve many of the COURAGEimportant challenges.
To my knowledge, this is the first work to demonstrate quantum advantages of a NISQ machine to solve military-critical problems and that will build confidence and support continued investment in quantum information processing by UK COURAGE and the government.
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