May 9, 2013
Quantum Computing Speeds Resolution To Problem
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Quantum computing just took a step from theory to practice with a test that took place at Amherst College in Massachusetts. An experimental quantum computer developed by D-Wave Systems was able to solve a problem 3,600 times faster than a conventional computer, the New York Times reports.
Catherine McGeoch, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society in the computer science department at Amherst College administered the test. She will present her findings about performance of the D-Wave machine next week. The problem given to the machine is a so-called optimization problem. When conducting the experiment, the college compared the system with three conventional software solvers, using instances of three NP-hard problem domains. Their results were compared with results generated by software from IBM running on a high-performance machine, the New York Times said.
“The novel computing system (algorithm plus platform) carries out quantum annealing, a type of adiabatic quantum computation. It uses properties derived from quantum physics such as a particle's ability "to move in one direction and its opposite at the same time,” the article said.
“There is no sense in which this is the definitive statement about quantum computing,” McGeoch said in the New York Times article. "I'm more interested in how well it works, not whether or not it is quantum."
The D-Wave computer looks more like a steampunk contraption than a computer able to best all traditional computers and servers out on the market. It is housed in a systems fridge with cryogenic packaging to keep the system cool so that it is able to operate.
D-Wave is a British Columbia-based company founded in 1999 with the goal of making practical quantum computing a reality. After years of development, the company assembled a dedicated applications team in 2011 with the goal of putting quantum computers to work solving industry-scale classifications, as well as learning and optimization problems solved by the company, customers and collaborators. The Amherst College test has been one of the more widely publicized examples of such experiments.
McGeoch is optimistic about the potential of quantum computing from D-Wave. She said she expects the chips to have better outcomes in the future, as machines become more powerful and more complex optimization problems are set.
"There could be a tipping point," she said in the New York Times article. "If the problems get big enough, conventional systems break down. In theory, you could solve a large number of optimization problems. People don't know how to do that conventionally without losing a lot of efficiency."
Quantum computers could be a solution for some of the world's bigger problems that need solving. They won't likely be a home solution any time soon. "The applications here are far too specific and the hardware too costly for these machines to become household objects," reported Business Insider.
Adoption of quantum computers will take several years to infiltrate the academic and enterprise space. It will take even more time to make these systems accessible for the home. Size and cost are large factors for adoption of such systems.