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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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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.

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