In what might be the first publicly announced application which exhibits Quantum Advantage, Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) and IBM have announced a software application for their IBM Q Network that will provide verifiable quantum random number generation on demand.  This service will be available at no additional charge to the 100+ organizations that are members of the IBM Q Network.

Besides the ability to use a real quantum computer, another unique aspect of this service is that it includes a verification process using a Bell test based upon Mermin inequalities so that a user can be sure of the true quantum nature of the processes with statistical analysis.  The algorithm is a hybrid quantum/classical algorithm that includes two steps.  The quantum computer first generates an initial set of random data and this is fed into a classical randomness extractor which can run on a laptop computer and is able to amplify the randomness of the data. 

Random numbers are used extensively in many classical computing applications.  Every encrypted internet transmission uses a key generated by some form of random or pseudo-random number. Random numbers are also used in many simulation applications such as Monte Carlo algorithms used in finance and other areas.  Today these random numbers are generated either through a software based pseudo-random number generation algorithm that takes an input seed and computes a random looking output from it.  There are also hardware based random number generators that use physical processes and leverage environmental noise or other quantum effects to derive a random number.  However, neither of these approaches offer the ability to verify the true randomness of the results or provide a 100% guarantee that the algorithms or the devices haven’t been tampered with.

It is still not clear how big a market might be for a service that can provide certifiable random numbers. We wrote last year an article titled Will Lotteries be the First Real World Application of a Quantum Computer? that describes one possible use. However, we expect a great many users won’t care deeply about how perfect the randomness of a number is or whether they really need the ability to verify its validity.  We would point out that for those who want something better than the pseudo-random algorithms, they can purchase a hardware random number generator on Amazon for $50 with Free Shipping.  Or else they can purchase a Samsung 5G smartphone with a built-in QRNG (Quantum Random Number Generator) chip that produces randomness from the shot noise of a light source captured by a CMOS image sensor. But nonetheless, it is a good sign that real world applications are starting to be discovered that can take advantage of today’s NISQ-level quantum computers and we do expect to see more trickling out in the future.

For more on this announcement you can view the blog posting on the CQC web site here.  You can also view the technical paper on arXiv that describes the algorithm in more detail here.

September 17, 2020