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NASA says it had a hand in creating D-Wave's quantum computer

During mid-February, Canadian firm D-Wave Systems unveiled and demonstrated what it calls “the world's first commercially viable quantum computer.” The demonstration of the technology was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, but the actual hardware remained in Burnaby, BC.

The via-satellite demonstration, coupled with the lack of ivory tower support from academia, scientists quickly expressed their skepticism about D-Wave's claims. Much skepticism of the Canadian company’s claims may soon be washed away, as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration confirmed last week that it had a hand in building a special chip used in D-Wave’s demonstration, according to IDG News Service.

Specifically, the relationship between D-Wave and NASA is one of designer and manufacturer. D-Wave designed the quantum-capable chips and contracted NASA to build them. Requests for aid in building supercomputers are nothing out of the ordinary for NASA’s Microdevices Laboratory, a unit of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has experience dealing with sub-micrometer dimensions and ultra-low temperatures in quantum computing.

“There has been activity in MDL in quantum technology, including quantum computing, for around 10 years,” said Alan Kleinsasser, principal investigator in the quantum chip program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Superconducting quantum computing technology requires devices and ultra-low [millikelvin] temperatures that are also required in much of our sensor work. A couple of years ago, D-Wave recognized that JPL is capable of producing the chips it wished to design. There is no [private] industry that can deliver such superconducting devices. So, we worked out a collaboration that produced the chips that D-Wave is currently using.”

To make the technology commercially applicable, D-Wave used the processes and infrastructure associated with the semiconductor industry. The D-Wave computer, dubbed Orion, is based on a silicon chip containing 16 quantum bits, or “qubits,” which are capable of retaining both binary values of zero and one. The qubits mimic each others’ values allowing for an amplification of their computational power. D-Wave says that its system is scalable by adding multiples of qubits. The company expects to have 32-qubit systems by the end of this year, and as many as 1024-qubit systems by the end of 2008.

“You could characterize our announcement as being met with enthusiasm from industry and skepticism from academia,” D-Wave CEO Herb Martin said, adding that the demonstration was a proof-of-concept aimed at potential business partners and clients. “Businesses aren't too fascinated about the details of quantum mechanics, but academics have their own axes to grind. I can assure you that our VCs look at us a lot closer than the government looks at the academics who win research grants.”

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that's really cool.
By ForumMaster on 3/13/2007 6:19:31 AM , Rating: 2
this quantum computer will make all forms of encryption obsolete. this is bad for those of us that like a bit of privacy. wonder when/if NASA will ever use these chips in space.

RE: that's really cool.
By FITCamaro on 3/13/2007 6:25:36 AM , Rating: 1
Not yet. This one is only about as powerful as a current PC. Future ones with more "qubits" will be much more powerful though.

I personally have nothing to hide in my email so if they wanna read it, I don't really care. The government has better things to do than read your email talking to your friends.

RE: that's really cool.
By h0kiez on 3/13/2007 7:37:04 AM , Rating: 4
I won't even pretend to understand quantum computing, but haven't previous articles stated that this particular iteration is just a proof of concept and isn't even close to as powerful as a modern desktop? Seems like people are just stating whatever pops into their head as fact. Ah...internet forums.

RE: that's really cool.
By gramboh on 3/13/2007 11:41:21 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is, that attitude only works if you agree with government policy and the direction of society. It's easy to have this view when life is comfortable and things are going well. In the future what if you were to dissent and have differing opinions which were stiffled? Privacy is important.

RE: that's really cool.
By dever on 3/13/2007 1:12:28 PM , Rating: 1
Thank you gramboh for injecting reason into the conversation. People fail to remind themselves of how truly privileged we are in nearly every aspect, a historical anomoly. My philosophy is to give individuals second chances and not assume their poor actions stem from malicious thoughts, but rather lack of thought. When dealing with those that have power over you, think more critically. You can still assume that actions come from lack of thought, but when they can personally affect you adversely, stand up for yourself. Retain your liberties that others fought for.

RE: that's really cool.
By Laitainion on 3/13/2007 8:08:20 AM , Rating: 3
I personally have nothing to hide in my email so if they wanna read it, I don't really care. The government has better things to do than read your email talking to your friends.

I think that's a little naive, everyone has a private life and the government (in this example) respecting that fact is one of the big differences between a democracy and a dictatorship. As George Orwell demonstrated in 1984 all too well (an excellent book, if you haven't read it).

RE: that's really cool.
By Frazzle on 3/13/2007 8:43:04 AM , Rating: 3
If you think that the government can't look into your e-mails and other electronic, encrypted forms of communications anytime they desire already without a quantum computer then the naivety is a little more widespread than you might imagine.

btw, why is it that the paranoid, anti-government rant comments always seem to get higher ratings on this site? Is the internet really THAT infested with the nihilist, anti-social types?

RE: that's really cool.
By dever on 3/13/2007 1:18:59 PM , Rating: 4
I would venture to say there is less nievity among those who watch carefully to preserve freedoms that others have so diligently strived for. Also, in my experience, these are typically not nihilistic individuals. But, rather, individuals who have a strong sense of justice and purpose.

RE: that's really cool.
By Yawgm0th on 3/13/2007 8:09:09 PM , Rating: 4
If you think the government can look at email or any electronic communication at any time without a quantum computer, you're obviously completely ignorant to technical aspects of the topic at hand, and probably shouldn't be posting.

RE: that's really cool.
By peternelson on 3/13/2007 9:27:38 AM , Rating: 2
Quantum computers won't make ALL forms of encryption obsolete. Assuming they can factor products of large primes into their primes, the most widely used schemes will be compromised.

Everyone just then moves to encryption based on non-quantum solvable algorithms.

The only thing with that is if someone archived the messages being sent NOW, they would be wide open later if the contents were still of interest.

So quantum is not the end of encryption just requires a change.

RE: that's really cool.
By Whedonic on 3/13/2007 11:28:12 AM , Rating: 2
Cracking RSA encryption, the sort used for pretty much everything online, is indeed based on factoring prime numbers. With conventional computers, the difficulty in cracking RSA is exponentially harder with an increase in the size of the number to be factored. But with a quantum computer the difficulty increases only linearly with bigger numbers, making something like a 256 bit integer factorable in a reasonable amount of time. Hence the weakness.
AFAIK no one has come up with an encryption scheme that is theoretically quantum computer-proof yet.

RE: that's really cool.
By Yongsta on 3/13/2007 1:54:22 PM , Rating: 2
Well there's gonna be new forms of cryptography/encryption such as quantum cryptography.

The next Playsation 4
By mrteddyears on 3/13/2007 3:54:38 AM , Rating: 1
Have Sony lined this up for the PS4 :-)

RE: The next Playsation 4
By bldckstark on 3/13/2007 12:36:32 PM , Rating: 4
Yes, and they have already stated that it will be ready next month, it will be the most powerful entertainment system in the universe for all time, and it will cost only $30,000,000. Not only that, but it's better than all of their competitors quantum systems hands down, and they will pay you $60,000,000 if you can find one in a store. It will also have a PR-DVD (Plaid Ray) player that will require a cyanide capsule injection in your neck in order to get the viewing rights. If a copy is found on the internet or you watch it too many times they remotely pop the capsule and you die. You can disable the copy protection, but you have to wear giant satellite blocking scarf.

3rd party Manufacturer
By peternelson on 3/13/2007 9:34:55 AM , Rating: 4
“Superconducting quantum computing technology requires devices and ultra-low [millikelvin] temperatures that are also required in much of our sensor work. A couple of years ago, D-Wave recognized that JPL is capable of producing the chips it wished to design. There is no [private] industry that can deliver such superconducting devices. So, we worked out a collaboration that produced the chips that D-Wave is currently using"

Yes we know low temps are used in sensor work eg in MRI scanners and physics installations like CERN and Fermilab. Dilution refridgerators eg from oxford instruments are pretty common in these apps.

I'm surprised Dwave got NASA to make them. I'd have gone for who have experience fabricating the exact same niobium based chips for superconducting processing. I assumed that was how they did it because the die size was the same 5mm x 5mm. But maybe at the time NASA was the most obvious manufacturing partner, possibly because of government subsidies, or a little more experience in the specifically quantum aspects of the tech.

1024 Qubits???
By AnnihilatorX on 3/13/2007 12:35:46 PM , Rating: 2
For an n qubit quantum register, recording the state of the register requires 2^n complex numbers (the 3-qubit register requires 2^3 = 8 numbers). Consequently, the number of classical states encoded in a quantum register grows exponentially with the number of qubits. For n=300, this is roughly 10^90, more states than there are atoms in the observable universe.

Quoted from Wikipedia

If 300 qubits can record bits corresponding to number of atoms in the universe, and storage grows exponentially with the n number, what do 1024 qubits equates to?

RE: 1024 Qubits???
By joex444 on 3/13/2007 2:59:00 PM , Rating: 2
2^1024, obviously ;)

That's approximately 10^308, little more.

A thought
By Hare on 3/13/2007 2:20:26 PM , Rating: 2
If NASA helped a company from another nation to make a quantum computer do we have any doubts that the government (USA) hasn't had a quantum computer with a lot more qubits since God knows when? Think about it for a while.

A private company developes something that the three letter agencies haven't got? I seriously doubt that. I believe that quantum computers have been in use for a while by certain parties.

By leidegre on 3/13/07, Rating: -1
RE: Benchmarks
By MrTeal on 3/13/2007 8:56:44 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sure those designing have no intention selling it to you. It's intended for industrial and research fields, not for playing games on. If you don't care about any tech besides that which allows you to play games, that great for you, but you might be better off hanging around the IGN forums instead of a general tech site.

RE: Benchmarks
By Pops on 3/13/2007 10:57:58 AM , Rating: 2
I would say the largest road block from this type of computing reaching peoples desktops is cooling. At the moment it seems impractical to be able to lower the temperature of the chip to its required level anywhere outside of a commercial building.

Now technology is changing every day. Maybe someone will be able to produce something down the road that can cool down to the required temp in a small self contained package. I find it kinda funny that its "air conditioning" that may keep us from potentially the most power computers ever created.

RE: Benchmarks
By Hare on 3/13/2007 2:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
I would say the largest road block from this type of computing reaching peoples desktops is cooling.
Nope. The biggest problem is that quantum computers are not used for these kinds of tasks. These are great for solving mathematical etc problems but that's it!

RE: Benchmarks
By joex444 on 3/13/2007 2:56:02 PM , Rating: 2
You are both right. Since these quantum computers rely on certain properties of superconductors, such as orderly spins and whatnot, they require a temperature low enough to ensure that. This tends to happen fully at temperatures below 1/1000th of a Kelvin. This is somewhere under -273.14C (as 0K = -273.15), though really, that's a bit too warm.

The most readily available coolant is LN2, and that's only capable of hitting about 84K, far too warm.

I can tell you that one of the most researched fields in solid state physics is superconductivity, and the search for a high temperature one (currently, there aren't any available materials which are superconductive above 100K). Still, if quantum computers rely on orderly spins, then this microkelvin temperature may be really impossible to circumvent.

RE: Benchmarks
By derwin on 3/13/2007 3:39:09 PM , Rating: 2
Is this kind of cooling done by helium dilution refridgeration?

RE: Benchmarks
By peternelson on 3/13/2007 5:10:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, you're right, this kind of cooling is done using the H3/H4 helium technique.

Unfortunately Helium is not as common as Nitrogen ;-)

There are some superconductive materials which can be cooled sufficiently using Nitrogen rather than Helium. However, they probably don't exhibit the quantum-style behaviours and may be affected by thermal noise etc.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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