D-Wave, the small company that sells the world’s only commercial quantum computer, has just bagged an impressive new customer: a collaboration between Google, NASA and the non-profit Universities Space Research Association.
The three organizations have joined forces to install a D-Wave Two (512 qubit), the computer company’s latest model, in a facility launched by the collaboration — the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The lab will explore areas such as machine learning — making computers sort and analyse data on the basis of previous experience. This is useful for functions such as language translation, image searches and voice-command recognition. “We actually think quantum machine learning may provide the most creative problem-solving process under the known laws of physics,” says a blog post from Google describing the deal.
Google – NASA tests show Dwave 512 qubit system up to 50,000 times faster
In tests last September, an independent researcher found that for some types of problems the quantum computer was 3,600 times faster than traditional supercomputers. According to a D-Wave official, the machine performed even better in Google’s tests, which involved 500 variables with different constraints.
Prior to selecting the contract with D-Wave, the Google, NASA, Space University partnership first conducted a series of benchmarks on the 512-qubit D-Wave Two system, and found that its specifications were met or exceeded. The computer will be upgraded to a 2,048 qubit system once D-Wave has perfected that chip.
“The tougher, more complex ones had better performance,” said Colin Williams, D-Wave’s director of business development. “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 D-Wave computer is unusual because it uses quantum bits (qubits) — bits that can exist in two states, on and off, simultaneously — to speed up calculations, and because it does not operate on the normal ‘gate’ model of computing, whereby logic gates are used to manipulate those bits. Instead, it is an ‘adiabatic’ computer, which reads out the ground state of its qubits to find a solution. The academic community has favoured the gate model, which has a better-developed theory behind it. But the adiabatic model has proven much easier to build, allowing D-Wave to double its processor size every year. The D-Wave Two has 512 qubits.
Problems and Applications of this system
The laboratory at Ames will be using the D-Wave System for a number of applications, but they’ll be focused on improving algorithms that are used to improve machine learning and artificial intelligence. The lab will also investigate whether the system can optimize the search for planets outside of our solar system.
“We hope it helps researchers construct more efficient, effective models for everything from speech recognition, to web search, to protein folding,” Google said in a statement.
Both quantum-computing centres — the one at USC and the one at Ames — have reserved 20% of their computer time for access by outside researchers. “Judging by the third-party requests we’ve had, I’d say there should be plenty of demand — probably more than can be accommodated,” says Daniel Lidar, director of the USC centre. So far, people have mostly used these machines to explore possible applications of quantum computing and to investigate how the computer behaves, rather than to solve previously unanswered problems.