Quantum computing’s elusive promise has always been computing power that approaches the infinite, and machines that are not just as intelligent as human beings, but far smarter. But building a computer that takes advantage of quantum indeterminacy has been difficult–until now.
A Canadian startup company is currently marketing a viable quantum computer system, aimed at solving complex problems for researchers.
The company, D-Wave Systems, is an offshoot out of the University of British Columbia’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Their current second-generation machine, introduced in 2013, called ‘D-Wave Two’, is the size of a garden shed, as it requires the processor to be cooled to nearly -273º Celsius , and to be magnetically and vibrationally shielded, so as to avoid external interference with the processor.
The 1,000 Qbit chip pictured here contains more computational possibilities than there are particles in the observable universe, and is the most powerful computer chip ever created, according to D-Wave Systems.
"The original vision of the company was simple: build a commercially useful quantum computer as soon as possible," explains Vern Brownell, D-Wave’s chief executive. "We just want to provide quantum computing resources to researchers and businesses around the world so they can solve really hard problems, better than they can today." Google and NASA jointly own one of the $10-15 million machines, and defense company Lockheed Martin also has one of their own.
A ‘qubit’, or quantum bit, is analogous to the classical computer ‘bit’, or how many variables that can be addressed by a computer in a single clock cycle. However, while most consumer-grade computers like the one you are using now will be either 32 or 64-bit, D-Wave’s ‘D-Wave Two’ quantum computer processor utilizes a 512-bit structure, and the company has just announced the development of their 1024-bit chip. And while classical computer bits are measured as being either on or off (typically represented as the ones and zeros of binary code), a qubit can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously, due to the effect of quantum indeterminacy. This has the potential to increase the processor’s computational power exponentially, since multiple calculations can be run on the same qubits at the same time.
This new computer is not without controversy, however. Conflicting studies on the machine have yielded speeds ranging from 3,600 times that of a classical computer, to performance of a typical desktop PC. However, the D-Wave Two processor is designed for computing linear equations rapidly, as opposed to what would be considered a "universal" computer, of which is what most of the benchmarks applied against it are designed for.