Google and NASA Have a New Quantum Computer

NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is the space agency’s hub for an experiment to assess the potential of quantum computers to perform calculations that are difficult or impossible using conventional supercomputers.

quantum_closeup_large2NASA’s QuAIL team aims to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration.

Support structure for installation of the D-Wave Vesuvius processor (image at the right), which is cooled to 20 millikelvin (near absolute zero).

The hope is that quantum computing will vastly improve a wide range of tasks that can lead to new discoveries and technologies, and which may significantly change the way we solve real-world problems.

Beginning with the D-Wave Two™ quantum computer, NASA’s QuAIL team is evaluating various quantum computing approaches to help address NASA challenges. Initial work focuses on theoretical and empirical analysis of quantum annealing approaches to difficult optimization problems.

The research team is also studying how the effects of noise, imprecision in the quantum annealing parameters, and thermal processes affect the efficacy and robustness of quantum annealing approaches to these problems. Over the next five years, the team will also develop quantum AI algorithms, problem decomposition and hardware embedding techniques, and quantum-classical hybrid algorithms.

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The new machine will continue the work presently being done in Google’s lab, optimization problems and machine learning, with time on the D-Wave given to all partners.

Quantum computing is a tricky business. Beyond the general premise, which uses the laws of quantum physics and embraces randomness, we’re not entirely sure how much faster quantum computing is right now, compared to classical computing. This mainly comes from a study coauthored by Mattias Troyer, a prominent physicist, who claimed that quantum computers did not outperform traditional computers on key benchmarks. Also part of the study was physicist John Martinis, who was hired by Google two months later for the Quantum AI Lab. D-Wave disputed this claim, but there hasn’t been much more meaningful testing of the technology since.

But Google, and others invested in the project, think that quantum computing is a way toward more creative problem solving. In their blog post originally announcing the program, they liken creative problems to trying to find the lowest point in a terrain with hills and valleys. Rather than computing the height point by point, they say quantum computing “tunnels” through the ridges to see if the other side is lower.

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The groups have explored usage in speech recognition, robotic missions into space, air-traffic management, and web search, according to D-Wave.

“Through research at NASA Ames, we hope to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve our ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration,” said Eugene Tu, Center Director at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in a statement.

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Fabio Evagelista is a Brazilian writer.

Crossed Paths is the first book of the Myra-Hati trilogy, an epic adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, for the lovers of sci-fi / fantasy genre. This is the author’s first work published in America.

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