Digital Annealer, a Completely New Architecture: Looking into the New Future Opened Up by Innovative Computing Technology

The University of Toronto Working on Interdisciplinary Problem Solving with Digital Annealer

Professor Ali Sheikholeslami
University of Toronto

Finally, Horie introduced Professor Ali Sheikholeslami of the University of Toronto, Canada, who has been conducting joint research with Fujitsu Laboratories. The University of Toronto is a first-class research institution focusing on AI and quantum computers. In March 2018, Fujitsu Laboratories established the Fujitsu Co-Creation Research Laboratory at the University of Toronto, a joint research hub. At this hub, Fujitsu has been conducting joint research with several university departments and researchers in an attempt to expand Digital Annealer's areas of application into multiple fields, including smart transportation, finance, networking, and medical care.

Since joining Fujitsu Laboratories as an intern during his Ph.D. studies (1988), Professor Sheikholeslami has been engaged in joint research activities in various fields with Fujitsu. Professor Sheikholeslami has been conducting research on Digital Annealer at the Univesity of Toronto over the past few years.

Partnership with the University of Toronto

Application fields of Digital Annealer include radiation therapy, brain-machine interfaces, urban transportation, wireless applications and connectivity, and economics. These fields may appear unrelated, but they all share a common need for optimization.

Cancer is the leading cause of mortality worldwide. In 2012, 14 million people developed cancer, and in 2017, 80,000 died of cancer in Canada, while 378,000 died of cancer in Japan. Research on cancer treatments is underway in many locations.

The photograph below shows a volumetric modulated radiation therapy (VMAT) machine, which is used all over the world. VMAT is a cancer therapy machine that rotates around the patient, reshaping and adjusting the intensity of the radiation beam. In such treatment, it is important to optimize the applied radiation in terms of radiation angle, area, and period in order to do maximum damage to cancer cells while minimizing damage to the surrounding normal cells.

Optimizing radiation to maximize the radiation applied to cancer cells while minimizing the impact on the surrounding normal cells is important in cancer radiation therapy.

The University of Toronto has been conducting joint research with state-of-the-art hospitals to use Digital Annealer to find the optimal solution in under 30 minutes. In an attempt to respond to cancer organs with complex shapes in the future, the university is also conducting research to use multiple DAUs to obtain the optimal solution.

We will now introduce other application examples. Dr. Taufik Valiante has been conducting research on brain structure analysis. He does research that uses Digital Annealer to analyze how brain neurons are linked, the characteristics of individual neurons, and the connections among neurons. We believe that the results of such analysis can be used to treat brain-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease and depression.

The next two examples introduce use of Digital Annealer in relation to urban transportation, a social issue.
Professor Alberto Leon-Garcia has been researching urban transportation for many years. Using Digital Annealer enables him to find the optimal solution in real time in response to ever-changing road conditions. This is expected to provide unlimited ability to reduce traffic jams.

In the near future, connected cars will spread. Connected cars communicate with infrastructure and networks as well as other vehicles. Professor Shahrokh Valaee has been using Digital Annealer to research optimized use of limited wireless resources.

Fintech is another important theme, as also mentioned by Mr. Fursman. Professor Yuri Lawryshyn has been studying this area with respect to investments that minimize risks, algorithms for high-speed transactions, and credit assessment at the University of Toronto. He is now utilizing Digital Annealer to accelerate solutions in these areas.

As explained above, while Digital Annealer is based on conventional general-purpose computing, its excellent ability to solve combinatorial optimization problems is comparable to the quantum annealing method. It is extremely user friendly and achieves a practical level of accuracy.

In response to these remarks by Professor Sheikholeslami, Horie summarized them as follows: "The University of Toronto and Fujitsu Laboratories have a long-term relationship that spans 20 years. I think you now can see that the University of Toronto is seeking out various new applications of Digital Annealer and such efforts will produce significant results that greatly impact society."

Further Development through Multidisciplinary Initiatives

Takeshi Horie
Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd.

In response to the discussions, moderator Horie asked: "People in physics, engineering, and applied studies at the University of Toronto unite to effectively work to solve social issues--where does this strength come from?" Professor Sheikholeslami replied: "At the University of Toronto, we have an atmosphere that encourages different departments to study together. In the future, I believe professors and researchers in a variety of fields will use Digital Annealer to achieve various outcomes."

Horie next asked all three participants: "When we seek to achieve the impossible and work on social issues, the key is how far we can get into customers' issues and solve problems with highly specialized expertise. What should be done to realize this?"

Mr. Fursman responded: "At 1QBit, we emphasize the importance of commitment to clients from the early stages of a project. Although we specialize in quantum-related technologies, no one understands the relevant social issue better than the client working on that issue. We collaborate with the client to combine the strengths of interdisciplinary experts and other specialists in particular fields so that we can find the best method to use and apply our technologies. Identifying the areas of needs and matching their solutions is how we do business."

Professor Sheikholeslami remarked: "A startup is one means to solve such problems. We encourage some startups to use Digital Annealer in their fields of interest. I believe in the future a variety of solutions will be brought about when professors and researchers in diverse fields create startups that use Digital Annealer."

Yoshizawa commented: "This issue is relevant not only to Digital Annealer but to AI as a whole. Since AI and Digital Annealer are technologies, utilizing them to solve problems in the truest sense is difficult unless we have knowledge of the relevant sector or domain. Issues that Digital Annealer should solve exist in customers' core business areas, so their business expertise is required. I explore different types of collaboration with diverse parties by taking into account the ecosystem."

Collaboration to Accelerate Digital Annealer and AI

Next, moderator Horie asked for opinions about the relationship between Digital Annealer and AI.

Professor Sheikholeslami replied: "What AI and Digital Annealer can do have many similarities. In machine learning, neural networks are optimized to solve problems. This means that neural networks are adjusted according to the problem to obtain an appropriate solution among the possible solutions. Also, by using Digital Annealer to train machine learning models, we can accelerate processing and reduce the time required for learning."

Mr. Fursman responded: "I am passionate about the Digital Annealer project. We have been studying the concept of 'what can be done to create a machine that thinks' for decades. However, we did not have the arithmetical capacity to realize this. I think Deep Learning is a shortcut for solving issues in AI, but it is not enough. Digital Annealer has the potential to raise AI's potential in an astonishing way and we expect progress in this regard."

Finally, Horie asked the three participants about their expectations and suggestions for Digital Annealer.

Professor Sheikholeslami noted: "I think there are two based on the general direction of our research. First, exploring means to make the hardware of Digital Annealer more flexible. Second, exploring means to re-configure Digital Annealer based on the application."
He further noted: "I believe more interdisciplinary studies are required in the applications area. For example, as I introduced initiatives by five professors, it is important that many researchers and students actually collaborate to expand the application areas for Digital Annealer."

Mr. Fursman answered: "I think the important thing is to make Digital Annealer available to many people. From the viewpoint of software, we at 1QBit will also work on the issue of how we should expand the hardware."

Yoshizawa concluded the session with these words: "As hardware, software, and people are all important, we at Fujitsu cannot do this alone. We will work on this issue with the spirit of co-creation for success."

  • Andrew Fursman CEO, 1QB Information Technologies Inc.
  • Ali Sheikholeslami Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto
  • Naoko Yoshizawa Vice Head of the Digital Services Business, Corporate Executive Officer, Fujitsu Limited
  • Takeshi Horie Director and Head of the Digital Annealer Project, Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd.