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NTT Research and Tokyo Institute of Technology Target Two Applications for CIM

Coherent Ising Machine (CIM) Joint Research Focuses on Drug Discovery and Compressed Sensing

NTT Research, Inc., a division of NTT, announced that it has entered into a joint research agreement with Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) to develop applications for the Coherent Ising Machine (CIM). The two targeted applications for the CIM, an information processing platform based on quantum oscillator networks, are compressed sensing and drug discovery, both of which require extremely high levels of processing on existing computers. Two agreements, signed in 2020, call for collaboration between NTT Research’s Physics & Informatics (PHI) Lab and independent research groups in Tokyo Tech’s School of Computing, directed by Drs. Yukata Akiyama and Toru Aonishi. NTT Research will lead the five-year project, which will involve approximately ten researchers working in Tokyo and Sunnyvale.

Tokyo Tech, the largest institution for higher education in Japan devoted to science and technology, is a national research university funded primarily through the government. In its School of Computing, Professor Akiyama specializes in bioinformatics, including genome information processing, drug design and parallel applications; and Associate Professor Aonishi specializes in information science, mathematical physics and statistical mechanics. Drug discovery and compressed sensing are considered appropriate applications for a CIM because of their requirements of solving large scale optimization problems. The search for effective drugs involves an astronomical number of potential matches between pharmaceutically appropriate molecules and target proteins responsible for a specific disease. In fields such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), compressed sensing, also known as sparse sampling, can deliver highly efficient results by discarding large amounts of data with no useful information. The CIM is purpose-built to solve combinatorial optimization problems, which is a viable approach to both drug discovery and compressed sensing.

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“Previous work has focused mainly on understanding how quantum oscillator networks solve combinatorial optimization problems,” said Dr. Yoshihisa Yamamoto, Director of the PHI Lab. “Through this new application-oriented work undertaken in collaboration with Professors Akiyama and Aonishi, we believe that we will be able to explore new ways to use the networks by better understanding the requirements of a CIM.”

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A CIM is a network of oscillators programmed to solve problems that have been mapped to an Ising model, which is a mathematical abstraction of magnetic systems composed of competitively interacting spins, or angular momentums of fundamental particles. (For a visual representation of how a CIM solves a combinatorial optimization problem, see this video from the MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.) The near-term goals in this joint research include formulating the essential part of the intensive computation required for a CIM to screen drug candidate compounds via combining their functional fragments and developing a CIM-based L0 norm reconstruction algorithm of distorted images. (The L0 norm relates to non-zero elements in a matrix.) Broader expectations are to demonstrate the advantages of a CIM and its related technology in addressing real-world problems and to explore new ways of computing.

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“We are very pleased to have entered into these agreements with NTT Research and look forward to exciting results over the next five years resulting from the collaboration between Professors Akiyama and Aonishi, their groups and their NTT Research counterparts,” said Osamu Watanabe, Executive Vice President, Director of the Office of Research and Innovation, Tokyo Tech.

As part of its long-range goal to radically redesign artificial computers, both classical and quantum, the NTT Research PHI Lab has already established joint research agreements with seven universities, one government agency and one quantum computing software company. The other institutions of higher education are Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame. The government entity is NASA Ames Research Center, and the private company is 1QBit. In January 2021, NTT Research entered a second agreement with Caltech to develop an extremely fast, miniaturized CIM. The PHI Lab’s research partners include more than a dozen of the world’s leading quantum physicists. In addition to its PHI Lab, NTT Research has two other divisions: its Cryptography & Information Security (CIS) Lab and Medical & Health Informatics (MEI) Lab.

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