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The science community takes a leery stance at D-Wave's quantum computer

Canadian company D-Wave Systems demonstrated earlier this week what it claims is the first commercial quantum computer, but scientists from the computing community are skeptical of D-Wave’s claims.

Specifically, the main criticism of D-Wave’s claims is that the company has yet to submit its findings for peer review—a common practice amongst the science community to gain acceptance of one’s work. "Until we see more actual measurements, it's hard to know whether they succeeded or not," said Phil Kuekes, a computer architect in the Quantum Science Research Group at Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP Labs.

Although D-Wave’s origins are closely tied to the University of British Columbia, it is now a privately held company that may find it in its best interests to keep the details of the Orion quantum computer within the walls of its headquarters. In fact, the first public demonstration of the Orion was to an audience at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., but the actual computer hardware remained at its home base in Canada. The demonstration took place via a live video feed.

Lieven Vandersypen, an associate professor at Delft University, offered his thoughts on D-Wave’s announcement: “First, it's quite remarkable that they have persuaded investors to put serious money in their enterprise at such an early stage,” he said, referring to the US$14 million D-Wave raised May 2006. “It sounds like they have a clear vision of where quantum computing is going, and how to approach it. Whether it is realistic, time will tell.”

The lack of scientific publication was also something Vandersypen pointed to, saying, “Until now, D-Wave hasn't published any major advances or breakthroughs in the scientific literature. With respect to their announcement, there is little detailed information available to support, and thus judge, the validity of the claims (as would be the case in a scientific publication).”

To further complicate matters, an examination into the technical details of Orion reveals that it is not a true quantum computer in the traditional sense of the term. D-Wave Chief Executive Herb Martin said that the Orion is not a true quantum computer, but rather a special-purpose machine that uses quantum mechanics to solve problems.

"Users don't care about quantum computing—users care about application acceleration. That's our thrust," Martin said to the Associated Press. "A general purpose quantum computer is a waste of time. You could spend hundreds of billions of dollars on it" and not create a working computer.

D-Wave detailed in its original announcement that it is combining design ideas from silicon computing and applying them to quantum computing. While it may not be a true quantum computer, Martin said that the evidence the company has indicates that the device is performing quantum computations.

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not a true Quantum comp
By AnotherGuy on 2/16/2007 2:27:18 PM , Rating: 2
Somehow i knew it was too good to be true... and since the lack of details it made it even harder to believe

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By Kilim on 2/16/2007 2:44:28 PM , Rating: 3
Not Really. I hardly believe another comnpany would not use any information they may get from peer reviews.

We will see soon enough if it is real or not, but I do think their hard work, if real, would get stolen if they published their solutions.

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By vdig on 2/16/2007 3:31:58 PM , Rating: 1
The question that most people will have, regardless of whether this is a true quantum computer or not, is actually whether this computer is anywhere near as powerful as they claim it is, and if so, does it translate into real world boosts. A computer, by any other name, is still a computer, and if it can utterly wipe the floor with current computers, many of us would want this quantum computer/QMCPU/BFG system.

Do we really have to have a need for speed before we can have a faster computer? I don't think so. Less time spent waiting for computers to compute is more time to be productive.

Then again, computers are only as fast as the bottlenecks of the system allows. Primitive quantum computers have to have a bottleneck somewhere... or is that just applicable to the contemporary computer model?

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By FrankM on 2/16/2007 3:53:28 PM , Rating: 3
You have no clue what you are talking about, right?

1.) This is a very long way from making it to households. This is an experimental device.
2.) They have a much different use. They can solve some things much more easily and faster than ordinary supercomputers.

This is something entirely new and potentially revolutionary. Or do you still drive a steam-engine car?

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By Oregonian2 on 2/16/2007 4:27:08 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly, I betcha some people are reading the article and wonder if it'll lead to them getting faster frame rates on games for their future PCs. Your points are spot-on.

But as to this article's main points, a commercial concern's target wouldn't be a purist's quantum computer, doesn't seem a lot of point in that whereas the only possible customers would be quantum computer research facilities -- and they wouldn't buy it because they're working on their own stuff that does things their own way.

If it actually can solve the super-hard problems and do it with squirrels (humanly treated) in a barrel, then that's great!

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By fic2 on 2/16/07, Rating: -1
RE: not a true Quantum comp
By angryhippy on 2/16/2007 4:16:41 PM , Rating: 2
Then again, computers are only as fast as the bottlenecks of the system allows. Primitive quantum computers have to have a bottleneck somewhere... or is that just applicable to the contemporary computer model?

I imagine it would be limited by how fast you could feed it data. Storage data transfer rates is a huge bottleneck in regular computers. Even state of the art RAM must be a major bottleneck for a quantum I would think. Still it's exciting to see progress in quantum computers, I hope it's not all hype.

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By jmunjr on 2/16/2007 6:00:52 PM , Rating: 2
I imagine these machines won't need a lot of data to do great things. Perhaps they would be used to do some serious mathematical calculations, say like astronomical measurements, RNA/Folding stuff, etc. Quantum computing would be a huge boost over traditional computing, and I think if and when they become mainstream in science research we will see some revolutionary changes in our understanding of the universe.

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By melgross on 2/17/2007 1:08:07 AM , Rating: 2
They haven't claimed that this is a powertful machine. Quite the opposite. It only uses 16 Q-Bits. They did say that by the end of 2008 they will have a machine using 1,000 Q-Bits. That would be *fairly* powerful, but not very.

RE: not a true Quantum comp
By tleeds on 2/17/2007 9:57:47 AM , Rating: 2
1000 qubits would be awsomely powerful. Due to the nature of quantum computing and entanglement, the number of solutions that can be computed at once scales exponentially not linearly. This current 16 bit computer can compute 2^16 possibilities at once, thus 65,536 possible outcomes at the same time. A future 1024 bit computer would compute 2^1024 possibilities. That's an amazingly huge number of possible combinations all being computed at once. It's this nature of quantum computers to solve np-complete problems with ease that makes them attractive. They can solve exponential problems in linear time.

Lack of Detailed Specs
By mkruer on 2/16/2007 2:59:34 PM , Rating: 3
The lack of detailed specifics is not a big surprise. The most likely culprit is obtaining patents on everything relating to the device. Once that happens we should start seeing more and more details reviled. In the meantime the only thing we should expect is some peer reviewed testing, demonstrating the speed at which the device is able to process complex problems.

RE: Lack of Detailed Specs
By TheDoc9 on 2/16/2007 3:14:19 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, who knows if it works or not. But what we do know that if it does and they sent it off to be 'peer reviewed' - it would get stolen in a heartbeat.

Plus, these rocket scientists are often very jealous and slow to change by nature, it's unlikely that short of watching the quantum calculations take place through a microscope they would be convinced of anything.

RE: Lack of Detailed Specs
By johnsonx on 2/16/2007 4:03:11 PM , Rating: 4
But if they watch, won't that foul up the computations?

That poor kitty is tired of being undefined all the time!

well, ok, I supposed whether or not the cat is tired of it all is undefined as well....

RE: Lack of Detailed Specs
By dluther on 2/16/2007 6:45:29 PM , Rating: 2
But if they watch, won't that foul up the computations?

Absolutely priceless!

The reference to Schroedinger's cat was funny, but the subtlety here was just spot on.

RE: Lack of Detailed Specs
By johnsonx on 2/17/2007 10:43:38 AM , Rating: 3
Thank you sir.

Apparently you're the only one who got it though, as I haven't been modded up at all (or down for that matter). Quantum humor is a bit strange for most people to be charmed by I guess, so while it's on the top of my list it doesn't even make the bottom of other's lists.

RE: Lack of Detailed Specs
By Jason H on 2/20/2007 3:25:49 PM , Rating: 2
What a quarky sense of humor!

Laymen's terms
By deeznuts on 2/16/2007 5:44:36 PM , Rating: 3
Can someone with the technical knowledge explain this in the most simplest terms to an idiot about everything quantum, what a quantum computer would do?

My experience with quantum physics is limited to "when you try to measure it isn't there" or whatever I've seen on the science channel. I'm utterly fascinated by it and equally baffled by it.

RE: Laymen's terms
By photoguy99 on 2/16/2007 7:10:51 PM , Rating: 3
I don't think you should feel bad about being baffled by it.

If I recall correctly even Einstein rejected quantum concepts for a while, and he was a fairly smart guy :).

As for helping you understand it, WP is the probably the best I can offer:

RE: Laymen's terms
By masher2 on 2/18/2007 3:14:06 PM , Rating: 3
The biggest problem with understanding QM is that its essentially an incomplete theory. We know the mathematics work, but we don't have a model to hang them on...and we're not entirely sure what they're telling us is happening.

When you describe any classical (non-QM) theory of science, you interpret the math into words, using the conceptual model. With QM, this isn't really possible, as we lack that model.

The end result is that you can't really understand QM without the mathematics. And even when you "understand" it, you're not really sure what its telling you.

RE: Laymen's terms
By evildorf on 2/18/2007 4:08:10 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. Quantum theory is be no means 'complete' in that it describes any and all physical phenomena, however by that measure it is far more complete than any other current theory. Classical physics, for all its intuitive appeal, isn't remotely comparable in terms of the variety of observed phenomena that it can describe/predict. All the crazy mathematics that go into quantum theory wasn't simply hit upon by chance. Concrete physical reasoning lies underneath all of it. It's just that to people who don't study it in some depth, the math can easily obscure the physics.

On the quantum computer, it will be interesting to see how this product plays out. Any number of well-funded research facilities have been trying to work out all sorts of tricky problems with the construction of a quantum computer for years. For this company to have somehow solved these would be a great leap forward...though perhaps an unlikely one.

RE: Laymen's terms
By masher2 on 2/18/2007 4:21:47 PM , Rating: 3
The theory is incomplete in that it lacks a conceptual model to accompany the mathematics, not that it fails to describe any particular phenonemon. Therefore, we can't "interpret" what the math is telling us, though the results are verifiably correct. Or rather, we have several different interpretations, all of which are incomplete, and none of which we're sure is correct (if any). For instance, what is really happening during wavefunction collapse? Is it an actual phenonemon, just an artifact of the mathematics, or a secondory mechanism to a larger, still unknown process? All we have are equations, not mental pictures to go with them. That is why you cannot even approximately describe QM with words.

Furthermore, we don't even know such basic things about QM such as whether or not Bell's Theorem is correct. When I was a graduate student in physics, I believed it wasn't...which pretty much made me a heretic. Lately, there's been some new evidence it may not be, which would cause a rather large rethinking of the foundations of QM.

RE: Laymen's terms
By AnotherGuy on 2/16/2007 7:14:33 PM , Rating: 2
A quantum computer is any device for computation that makes direct use of distinctively quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. In a classical (or conventional) computer, the amount of data is measured by bits; in a quantum computer, the data is measured by qubits. The basic principle of quantum computation is that the quantum properties of particles can be used to represent and structure data, and that quantum mechanisms can be devised and built to perform operations with these data.

thats from wikipedia

By scrapsma54 on 2/16/2007 10:28:07 PM , Rating: 2
If it can do quantum level computations, then it is still praiseworthy of an award. I for one accept the fact that it is a powerful asset and should be used widely. Why is it being discouraged? It is clearly a overly decent consumer solution.

RE: Still...
By Milliamp on 2/17/2007 2:11:14 PM , Rating: 2
For every revolutionary breakthrough, there are probably hundreds of other companies/people that are just blowing smoke for funding.

I don't think the community is trying to discourage this, rather, they have a responsibility to be skeptic.

RE: Still...
By masher2 on 2/18/2007 3:22:18 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly so...and venture capitalists trying to raise funds (a description which certain fits D-Wave) are guilty of far more "smoke blowing" than anyone else.

Am I a skeptic? Sure...I know how a qubit works using quantum entanglement. But via quantum tunneling? It's not clear to me how that would work...and D-Wave hasn't shared any details.

We'll know soon enough
By Dianoda on 2/16/2007 2:42:30 PM , Rating: 3
Whether or not D-wave is pulling our leg will come to light soon enough. If D-wave's designs, once expanded to support many more qubits, say a thousand or so (the device shown was a 16 qubit design), maybe more, if those designs work (yielding a correct response to a much more complex NP-complete problem, verified independently using traditional super-computing), then I'll believe it.

D-wave currently expects to have a working design of about 1000 qubits by 2009, at which point D-wave's method either works or it doesn't, there won't be anyway to hide it. That's where, if it works, the real fun would begin. And at that point, peer review would be unnecessary. ;)

RE: We'll know soon enough
By FrankM on 2/16/2007 3:56:41 PM , Rating: 2
To be exact, they are planning 1024 for Q3 2008.
It isn't where "the real fun begins" - the 128- and 512-qubit will also be a big update.
Whether it works will be found out much earlier.

I don't blame them.
By Oobu on 2/16/2007 4:00:52 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know if it's real or not, but I don't blame them at all for not sharing certain information. People totally love stealing from and copying others work and then claiming it for their own.

RE: I don't blame them.
By Trogdor on 2/16/2007 4:49:18 PM , Rating: 2
Precisely, if you've got something possibly revolutionary you don't just give out your secrets/information to the "public" to look at so readily. You've got to cover all your bases, especially in the stealing work area. Let them all be as skeptical as they like, if it really works we'll know soon enough.

duh-ja vu
By MikeBurtner on 2/17/2007 6:38:45 AM , Rating: 2
"Until we see more actual measurements, it's hard to know whether they succeeded or not,"

Based on what I have read about quantum computing, you should get the success or failure results before you turn the computer on! Computations are finished before they begin, and the user interface has video technology that refreshes the screen backward in time, printing on the retinas moments before the screen image has actually been rendered.

It's a little unfair to expect real world verification from a device that apparently works on hyper-real principles. I just hope the USB standard can keep up with bus speeds outside the space-time continuum.

I knew this was fake
By Sharky974 on 2/17/07, Rating: 0
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads
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