Steve Jurvetson is a venture capitalist who invested in DWave Systems. Dwave makes adiabatic quantum computers. Dwave sold a 512 qubit system to Google for machine learning and artificial intelligence
This is an interesting development in a larger trend I (Steve Jurvetson) call Deus Ex Machina — machine learning innervates everything.
Under the covers, just about every new initiative at Google, from Glass to robo-cars, is driven by machine learning — whereby the machine learns patterns in the data without explicit models or traditional solution design. It’s what makes “Big Data” BIG this time around. The approach requires a humble relaxation of the presumption of control, and so it starts with companies like Google and eventually revolutionizes all businesses, even those with a delusion of control, like Investment bankers. =)
As a precondition to purchase, Google gave the company a number of performance benchmarks to prove that the quantum computer is faster than anything Google has in house.
The NYT reports:“For most problems, it was 11,000 times faster, but in the more difficult 50 percent, it was 33,000 times faster. In the top 25 percent, it was 50,000 times faster.”
“The machine Google and NASA will use makes use of the interactions of 512 quantum bits, or qubits, to determine optimization. They plan to upgrade the machine to 2,048 qubits when this becomes available, probably within the next year or two. That machine could be exponentially more powerful.”
Lockheed Martin interest – the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has what is described as the most complex software system of any modern weapon system, with over 24 million lines of code, according to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office. Quantum computing could be used to verify this huge amount of code to ensure the aircraft will operate reliably and safely.
A quantum computer would also be good for a variety of other applications that involve machine learning, says Bo Ewald, the president of D-Wave’s recently launched US business. That may involve what Ewald calls “finding the essence of complex data structures”, something which could be useful for mining social media data or pattern recognition in imagery.
Ewald says that the quantum computer will be able to learn the key characteristics of a particular shape, say a car, by showing it lots of pictures of cars. Once it learns the key characteristics of that shape, it should be able to recognise them more readily than conventional systems. In addition, he says, once it has figured out the characteristics of what make a “car” recognisable, it can be used to “train” conventional computers – such as your mobile phone – how to more easily recognise a car, something which could interest the likes of Google.
Other applications which may interest the Nasa-Google-USRA collaboration range from improving web search and robotics to hunting for exo-planets and optimising air-traffic control. That computer, which will be installed at what is being called the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, will be located at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California, and is expected to be ready for use later this year.
Christopher Monroe, a quantum information researcher of the Joint Quantum Institute and University of Maryland, has expressed doubts in the past about D-Wave’s claims and now says that although the company has made progress in demonstrating its computer’s abilities, it has still not offered proof that it is operating in a quantum state. “I’m not convinced at all it’s a quantum computer,” he says. “But maybe it doesn’t matter.”
What Monroe means is that the D-Wave computer may indeed be able to solve some optimisation problems better than classical computers, as was shown in recent tests, even if the way it works doesn’t involve quantum mechanics. “Given the dearth of publishing from the group, it’s hard to know from all the details whether what they’re observing is a quantum phenomenon,” he says.
But even some former D-Wave critics have been won over – at least in part. Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has long been involved in quantum computing, says that when Lockheed Martin first got interested in D-Wave, he tried to dissuade them from buying it. Lloyd himself had been involved in developing the principles behind the adiabatic quantum computer, but says his group didn’t patent the idea because they didn’t think a practical machine could really be built. “I was probably wrong, and [Lockheed and D-Wave] were probably right,” he now says. “The D-Wave device is doing something quantum, but it’s not clear yet what that something is.”