CIA and Amazon Founder Greedily Eye D-Wave's Quantum Computer
October 7, 2012 12:11 PM
comment(s) - last by
Canadian startup receives funding from two key sources
Situated in the verdant North American northwest, Canada's
University of British Columbia
the fertile breeding ground
for the first major "quantum computing" startup. Calling itself "
", the company launched in 1999 with an odd assortment of professors and graduate students. One of those students -- who at the time was just graduating with his Ph.D -- was Geordie Rose. Today Mr. Rose, one of the company co-founders, is the company's chief technology officer (CTO) and is fighting a battle to convince venture capitalists (VCs) that his company is dealing in reality, not peddling digital snake oil.
I. Making Quantum Computing a Cold, Hard Reality
Like the minicomputers of decades past, D-Wave's systems --
first unveiled in 2007
-- are hulking designs, 10 feet high. But the majority of that space is occupied by the supercooled gases and cooling "gun", which chills a custom chip down.
D-Wave's "Quantum" computers [Image Source: D-Wave Systems]
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
, the top of the gun is a balmy -269 °C (4 Kelvin) -- just slight warmer than the background radiative temperature in the chilly depths of space (2.7 Kelvin). At its tip, the gun cools a 1-inch square chip to millikelvin temperatures -- colder than outer space, colder even
than Large Hadron Collider's operating temperature
of 1.9 Kelvin.
D-Wave's cooling gun chills the company's chips to colder than space temperatures.
[Image Source: ZDNet]
While researchers today are probing using nanostructures to store encode information in electron spin -- forming
so-called single atom "quBits"
(quantum bits) -- the D-Wave chip is a cruder design, consisting of niobium alloy loops that trap current either clockwise (0) or counter-clockwise (1). Superconductors called couplers selectively link the "quBit" loops, allowing them to interact, and flip each other.
D-Wave's 16 quBit "Orion" quantum processor. [Image Source: D-Wave Systems]
The system requires two forms of guidance. First it needs a quantum algorithm -- which consists of setting operating settings of the couplers. Second, it needs raw data for that algorithm to churn on.
While creating the quantum algorithm and converting data into a digestible format for the device is a daunting task, the potential gains are great. The system can quickly equilibrate, with the quBits quickly coalescing on a solution to an optimization problem -- represented by a lower-energetic configuration of the system.
The optimization process involves the quBits
-- during which time they can occupy both 0 and 1 simultaneously. (This claim has been challenged as unproven by critics, who suggest the system could be operating with traditional nanoscale electro-magnetic effects.)
Comments Geordie Rose, Ph.D, "Virtually everything has to do with optimization, and it's the bedrock of machine learning, which underlies virtually all the wealth creation on the Internet."
II. Critics Question Whether D-Wave Computer is Quantum or Simply "Weird"
Despite the fact that the company was spawned out of a leader in the academic world's quantum computing push,
skepticism from the research community
has been long simmering on at least three grounds.
Skepticism over D-Wave quantum claims has raged. [Image Source: Physics World]
First, there's a war over terminology -- today's theoretical quantum computers share some elements (such as reliance on entanglement) with D-Wave's quBits, but physically are very different. That leads to the second criticism -- that D-Wave's empirical development process has created a situation in which they don't know exactly what is going on inside their chip, and thus cannot properly describe potential differences with
(e.g single atom quBit). Lastly, many complain that D-Wave's algorithms aren't yet even as fast as classical transistor-based logic.
MIT Professor Scott Aaronson -- a quantum-computing expert and long-time critic -- comments, "At an engineering level they've put together a setup that's impressive in various ways. But in terms of the evidence that they're solving problems using quantum mechanics faster than you could classically, I don't think it's there yet."
Professor Aaronson and others are concerned that
despite support from experts
at certain institutions -- such as
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) -- D-Wave has simply built a "weird" computer, not a quantum computer at all. After D-Wave researchers published in
last year describing quantum annealing, it became clear that the D-Wave chips were demonstrating some quantum effects. Professor Aaronson
on the development, slightly softening his criticism.
D-Wave has yet to prove its systems operating using quantum entanglement, a key feature of quantum computers, which Albert Einstein described as "spooky". [Image Source: Newscom]
But he argues D-Wave still needs to demonstrate definitive proof of two things -- first evidence that quantum entanglement is occurring on-chip, and second evidence definitively demonstrating a "quantum speedup" over classical designs. And even if D-Wave
show those things, says Professor Aaronson, its "hard coded" algorithm approach and requirement of heavily pre-processed data make it a less than ideal quantum computer solution.
III. High Profile VC Backers Boost Canadian Company
But D-Wave is forging ahead. It
$30M USD in a new wave of funding. Among the high-profile donors were Amazon.com, Inc. (
) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
's (CIA) venture capital branch,
. For Mr. Bezos, the interest is likely applying quantum chips in search and other internet applications, while the CIA's interest most likely focuses on code-breaking/encryption.
Amazon founder and tech visionary Jeff Bezos recently became a D-Wave investor.
[Image Source: Getty Images]
D-Wave already has a growing stable of high-profile clients. Since 2011 Google Inc. (
) researchers have been paying D-Wave for access to the system, remotely logging in to D-Wave's control systems to
test out quantum image search
and other novel algorithms.
And Lockheed Martin Corp. (
), one of the world's largest defense contractors, paid D-Wave $10M USD for one of the D-Wave systems, hoping to use the quantum algorithms to track down bugs in the mission-critical code-base for the
delayed F-35 fighter jet project
Lockheed is using the quantum compute to hunt for bugs in its F-35B Lightning II fighter code
[Source: Lockheed Martin]
The high profile support shows that a lot of smart people with a lot of resources believe in D-Wave. After all, for all the questions, for all the delays in upping the quBit count as promised, D-Wave is one of a kind. It is the world's first firm to claim to offer a "commercially available quantum computer."
D-Wave [press release]
Scott Aaronson, MIT
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
10/7/2012 1:02:03 PM
Even though this is in the extremely early stages, I'm surprised to see something brought to market this soon. Very cool! I wonder when Intel will start on their version.
10/7/2012 1:34:30 PM
I'd rather see Intel push integration of on-die optics. Moving data from one area of the chip to the other is already dominating power consumption, and having massive bandwidth between dies would overcome a lot of bottlenecks today.
Having said that, I can't deny that quantum computing will be cool if it comes to fruition.
10/10/2012 9:47:55 AM
That's exactly what they're doing. Research into optical interconnects has been mentioned on the intel research page for a few years now, and even got mentioned in a future time table of upcoming cpus.
"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher
Defense Secretary Panetta Discusses Tough Negotiations over Lockheed F-35 Fighters
September 28, 2012, 9:05 AM
Australians Create 1-Atom Silicon Quantum Computing Bit (quBit)
September 20, 2012, 5:26 PM
New Device Further Proves Electron Quantum Entanglement Possible
January 13, 2010, 7:38 AM
Google, D-Wave Team up to Unveil World's First Quantum Image Search
December 14, 2009, 9:40 AM
Scientists Complete First Steps to Bring LHC Back Online
November 23, 2009, 9:46 AM
Google's Gleaming Glass HQ Gets Mountain View Snub, LinkedIn Gets the Love
May 7, 2015, 6:58 AM
Tech's Tax Day Fortunate Few: Qualcomm, Xerox, GE, et al. Pay Little or No Taxes
April 15, 2015, 11:30 AM
LinkNYC Terminals to Blanket New York City With Free WiFi, Free Calls, and Ads
November 17, 2014, 6:50 PM
Microsoft is Open-Sourcing Most of .NET, Adding OS X and Linux Support
November 12, 2014, 8:27 PM
Home Depot Lost 53 Million Emails, Blames Windows, Buys Execs New Macs
November 9, 2014, 5:00 PM
Former NSA Lawyer: If Google, Apple Encrypt User Data, They’ll Wither on the Vine Like Blackberry
November 6, 2014, 12:15 PM
Most Popular Articles
Quick Note: Apple Watch to Get Brick and Mortar Boost From Best Buy
July 27, 2015, 3:00 PM
Exclusive: If Intel and Micron's "Xpoint" is 3D Phase Change Memory, Boy Did They Patent It
July 29, 2015, 10:52 PM
As iPad Sales Wane and Watch Flops, iPhone Saves Apple's Profit With Its Heroics
July 22, 2015, 6:13 PM
Editorial: Reddit Allows Itself to be Hijacked as a Hate Platform For Racist Bigots
July 21, 2015, 6:32 PM
Microsoft July 29 Windows 10 Launch: Freebies, Rollout, and What's Next
July 21, 2015, 2:40 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2015 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information