Lockheed Martin — which bought an early version of such a computer from the Canadian company D-Wave Systems two years ago — is confident enough in the technology to upgrade it to commercial scale, becoming the first company to use quantum computing as part of its business.
But if it performs as Lockheed and D-Wave expect, the design could be used to supercharge even the most powerful systems, solving some science and business problems millions of times faster than can be done today.
Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s chief technical officer, said his company would use the quantum computer to create and test complex radar, space and aircraft systems. It could be possible, for example, to tell instantly how the millions of lines of software running a network of satellites would react to a solar burst or a pulse from a nuclear explosion — something that can now take weeks, if ever, to determine.
Vern Brownell, D-Wave’s chief executive, who joined D-Wave in 2009, was until 2000 the chief technical officer at Goldman Sachs. “In those days, we had 50,000 servers just doing simulations” to figure out trading strategies, he said. “I’m sure there is a lot more than that now, but we’ll be able to do that with one machine, for far less money.”
The processor of a quantum computer at D-Wave Systems’ lab in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Nextbigfuture has had extensive coverage for years of Dwave Systems and the adiabatic quantum computers that they make.
There is an article and podcast discussion at Physics World with Geordie Rose, CTO of Dwave and other researchers who are working on different quantum computer systems. Participants include John Martinis of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Raymond Laflamme of the University of Waterloo in Canada; John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology; and Charles Marcus – who was at Harvard when the recording was made but who is now at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark.
While most experts agree that practical quantum computers are some way off in the future, I also spoke to Geordie Rose, who is co-founder of Canada’s D-Wave Systems, which claims to have already built – and sold – quantum processors. While Rose says that the firm’s processors are currently being used to develop practical commercial applications, he also thinks that ultimately they may even have more artistic uses.
Quantum researchers “are taking a step out of the theoretical domain and into the applied,” said Peter Lee, the head of Microsoft’s research arm, which has a team in Santa Barbara, Calif., pursuing its own quantum work. “There is a sense among top researchers that we’re all in a race.”
If Microsoft’s work pans out, he said, the millions of possible combinations of the proteins in a human gene could be worked out “fairly easily.”
There are a variety of ways scientists create the conditions needed to achieve superposition as well as a second quantum state known as entanglement, which are both necessary for quantum computing. Researchers have suspended ions in magnetic fields, trapped photons or manipulated phosphorus atoms in silicon.