Toshiba brings quantum-inspired computer out of the cloud and onto the desktop

Simulated Bifurcation Machine burns algorithms onto FPGAs, pops 'em into a vanilla workstation, and offers 10x performance for some problems


Toshiba has brought its kind-of-quantum computers out of the clouds and onto Japanese desktops.

The new offering is called a “simulated bifurcation machine” and uses what the company calls “quantum-inspired algorithms” that run on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) inside in what appears to be a conventional x86 desktop workstation.

Bifurcation is a technique that builds on Ising models, a mathematical model of ferromagnetism, and Ising machines that apply such models to more complex interactions in nature. Ising machines are good at considering many variables, their interactions, and suggesting an optimal state.

Toshiba has offered Simulated Bifurcation Machines in the cloud for a couple of years now, starting with a version in the AWS Marketplace. In 2020 the machines were also made available in Microsoft’s Azure Quantum service. At launch, Microsoft billed the Machines as follows:

Toshiba’s… technique quickly obtains highly accurate solutions for complex large-scale combinatorial optimization problems and has demonstrated an approximately 10-fold improvement over other competing devices. Some examples of combinatorial optimization problems include dynamic portfolio management, risk management, and high-frequency trading. Practical applications include optimizing routing for electrical transmission lines considering cost, safety, time, and environmental impact; or finding the shortest route between cities, considering the time of day, traffic incidents, and driver schedule.

Toshiba has linked to a Nature Electronics paper by its house boffins that describes its offering as packing eight FPGAs and posted a video depicting what looks like an Intel PCIe card packed with FPGAs.

For now, Simulated Bifurcation Machines are only being offered as trials in Japan. For the rest of us, the AWS offering remains in place. Toshiba doesn’t charge – pardon the pun - to take it for a spin. AWS suggests it will cost you a titanic $3.06 per hour of operation in its EC2 IaaS service. ®


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