Many tech and information giants see quantum computing as the next big step in computer technology. Capable of solving complicated technical problems far outside the reach of even the most powerful traditional computers, quantum computing has been a holy grail for both tech giants like Google and agencies like NASA that have to solve immense mathematical problems. The Christian Science Monitor reported that Google and D-Wave, a quantum computing firm, say they have a working machine that can exceed normal computing speed by 100 million times.
According to a Dec 9 report by PC World, the D-Wave 2x computer measures to be about the size of a backyard shed, which is in fact smaller than your average supercomputer. D-Wave Systems has built three such computers; one resides at NASA’s Ames Research Center, another at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a third at the University of Southern California.
“We have already encountered problems we would like to solve that are unfeasible with conventional computers,” said John Giannandrea, an engineering vice president at Google, at a press conference. “We want to understand the future that may lie ahead of us in non-conventional computing.”
Unlike an ordinary computer, the D-Wave machine uses quantum mechanics to perform calculations and solve problems. For most computers, a single bit either represents a one or a zero. With three bits, a traditional computer can represent up to eight different possible values each at a different moment. By contrast the bits of a quantum computer, called qubits, can represent one or zero simultaneously, meaning three bits could represent eight values all at the same time. What this amounts to is a drastic increase in computing speed, with quantum computers capable of performing calculations in seconds that would take a conventional single-core computer thousands of years.
Don’t expect to have a quantum computer at home any time soon, if at all, because the computer only really speeds up certain kinds of calculations, which just so happen to be the kind of optimization problems that NASA and Google utilize often. In the future NASA is hoping that quantum computing will significantly improve their encryption technology and simulations. Google, on the other hand, wants to put the new machine to work on the optimization calculations it uses for consumer facing artificial-intelligence based technologies that perform tasks like photo search and voice recognition.