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A Working Quantum Computer in 3 Years? 292

prostoalex writes "Vancouver, BC-based D-Wave Systems got $17.5 mln from Draper Fisher Jurvetson to work on a preliminary version of a quantum computer, Technology Review reports. Delivery date? Within three years: 'It won't be a fully functional quantum computer of the sort long envisioned; but D-Wave is on track to produce a special-purpose, "noisy" piece of quantum hardware that could solve many of the physical-simulation problems that stump today's computers, says David Meyer, a mathematician working on quantum algorithms at the University of California, San Diego.'"
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A Working Quantum Computer in 3 Years?

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  • by Wizard Drongo (712526) < . u k> on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:06AM (#12879436)
    Yeah, but will it play Duke Nukem Forever??
  • Mathematician (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TorKlingberg (599697) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:06AM (#12879437)
    says David Meyer, a mathematician working on quantum algorithms at the University of California, San Diego.
    I will believe this when it comes from an experimental physicist.
    • Re:Mathematician (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TorKlingberg (599697)
      Judging from the reaction of the mods, I think I should explain myself.

      I have nothing against mathematicians. I just don't think they are the right ones to predict when we will have _working_ quantum computers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:08AM (#12879440)
    All your possible answers are belong to us!
  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <> on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:09AM (#12879442) Journal
    The whole mania behind this technology is that somehow we will be able to pull correct data out of thin air using the magical properties of quantum units. Somehow eigenvalues will just instantaneously pop into existence by the careful selection of input parameters.

    Too bad that's not how it works. These computers will still have to process data the same as any other processor and all the threat behind magically decoding 128-bit encryption is pure fluff. We are talking about another way of computing, for sure, but it is just another step in the evolution of computing systems rather than a brand new magic bullet for encryption maniacs.

    It is also unclear why people want to build a "quantum computer" when it seems that simply putting it on a peripheral board and using it as a separate calculation machine seems to be a much more straightforward application of the device than trying to cram a whole computer with these chips.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      when it seems that simply putting it on a peripheral board and using it as a separate calculation machine seems to be a much more straightforward application of the device than trying to cram a whole computer with these chips.

      I think that will be the idea. Unfortunately we can't even do that!
    • by Stalyn (662) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:43AM (#12879517) Homepage Journal
      Yeah... quantum was a buzzword in 1905. But now it's actual science and proven. Quantum mechanics and QFT are two of the most successful theories to date. Yes there are conflicts with GR. And yes QM and QFT are most likely incomplete. However for a quantum computer there is no need for a theory that will supersede QM/QFT. The domain for quantum computing is well within the reach of QM itself.

      Actually things like superdense coding and quantum teleportation have been verfied in the lab. So this stuff isn't exactly nonsense.
      • I agree with your statement except for the "But now it's actual science and proven."
        We have got to remember that no matter how much we like to think that science can prove something it can't the heart of the scientific theory is to disprove things in other words to be scientific a claim must be falsifiable []. Good theories remain just that, theories. Bad theories get falsified and thrown away. The quantum theories are good and so have endured thus far.
        • Falsification for a criterion of a valid theory is shaky at best. What is falsifiable? Surely we can all imagine possible worlds where all laws of physics are false. However can we make sense of world where these laws are false? What if time didn't flow at all? What if entropy decreased? Actually all theories are falsifiable and if there is a theory that isn't we shouldn't ignore it.

          When I said "it's actual science and proven" I wasn't talking about if it's falsifiable or not. Also a falsifiable theory doe
          • IMHO, this business of "falsifiability" is used because falsifiable is a subset of testable. I think there may be theories which are testable but not falsifiable, but are isolated and pathological. When it actually comes down to doing science, however, I think many scientists take a utilitarian approach: how useful is Such-And-Such Theory for computing this or that quantity?
          • I suspect that the problem here is your use of the word proven, where I would have been happier with the word "demonstrated". Certainly the QM phenomena that we're talking about have been demonstrated, and that's a sufficient condition for us to take QC seriously.

            With regards falsification, I'm not sure I agree that "Actually all theories are falsifiable". Theories that involve messing with reality can easily be made unfalsifiable, such as "we're all in a big computer game", a la The Matrix. There would

      • Yeah... quantum was a buzzword in 1905. But now it's actual science and proven. Quantum mechanics and QFT are two of the most successful theories to date.

        Agree that quantum theory is one of the more solids theories we have. However, building a quantum computer is more a matter of engineering, than just pure science.

        For example, Newtown figured out all the theory we needed to go to the Moon, but it took engineers few hundred years to actually accomplish this.

        Don't underestimate the engineering pro

    • by ettlz (639203) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:44AM (#12879519) Journal
      Good points. There are few "good" uses for quantum computers --- mainly, breaking public keys by factorising the product of two large primes (which may prove unrealisable in practise: I don't know how long one could keep an O(100) qbit state coherent), QM simulations (i.e., designable software experiments), and searching databases more quickly than classically possible. There will always be a need for classical computers.
      • Someone's been reading the Wiki [] about Quantum Computing ;)
        • I did go there to check facts, but I'm [allegedly] a physicist, dammit! And besides, do you really want to see Windows XP Quantum Mechanical Edition? Schroedinger's Blue Screen of Death?

          Well, do you?!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:49AM (#12879529)
      Your post is pure fluff. You don't know what you are talking about.

      With a (good enough) quantum computer it is possible to factor large numbers (Shor's algorithm) and to break various public key cryptography. (RSA, Elliptic curve crypto). So I would say that it is clear why people want to build one.

      (Though it is expected to take a while before the quantum computers are good enough. A few years ago they built one that was able to factor the number 15...)
    • Well, first off, dwave already has solid state quantum computers, they are just freaking expensive, and for the number of qubits, it just isnt worth it at the moment.

      Second, we all know that we are pretty far away from shors factorization algorithm, but at least with the technology that dwave is using (cooper pairs in superconductors), there is a chance of hitting that point sometime in the future.

      NMR computers are fun to play with, and are pretty cheap for the number of qubits you can use, but will n
  • Speeds? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mattygfunk1 (596840) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:10AM (#12879444)
    When quantum computing first hit the more "mainstream" press a few years ago it was hoped that they would start to be produced initailly close to the 10GHz mark. Anyone else got a more accurate figure these days?

    Funny Adult Vido Clips []

    • Frequency=! Speed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      No matter how fast or slow those computers (or better specific algorithm executers) will be is unclear, but forget thinking in Ghz or something for Quantum Computers.
    • Re:Speeds? (Score:5, Informative)

      by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:49AM (#12879531) Journal
      GHz has no meaning with Quantum computers. Sorry. Visualizing QC in terms on the Pentium in your computer is invalid.
      • Re:Speeds? (Score:4, Informative)

        by dr. loser (238229) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @08:05AM (#12880033)
        GHz has no meaning with Quantum computers. Sorry.
        Clock speeds still do mean something in quantum computers. Arguably they're even more important than in classical computers, since in quantum computers you need to get operations done at least 10^4 times faster than the system's decoherence [] time for quantum error correction to be robust. Decoherence times can be as short as microseconds, meaning that multiGHz operations could be important. Of course, if you're building a quantum computer, you want to work with a system with as long a decoherence time as possible....
    • Re:Speeds? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Timbotronic (717458) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @07:04AM (#12879730)
      Bit of a problem that one. As soon as you know the speed of your quantum computer you're unable to find it...
  • by NoSuchGuy (308510) <do-not-harvest-m ...> on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:23AM (#12879473) Journal
    The 2006, 2007, 2008 Vaporware Award goes to D-Wave Systems.

    Wow, a Quantum Computer that only exist in a "Powerpoint Universe ©".
    • This is quite a piece of vapor news though - and may be the most blatant to date. It uses both 'special-purpose' and 'could' in the description of the kit.

      It is even remarkably specifically non-specific about what it _could_ achieve. Nice. I like.
    • Sure, I mean it could be vaporware and a nice way to seperate 18 mill (US or Canidan?) from some VCs...

      However, given that they have narrowed their focus (from a general purpose machine) to a special purpose machine using (they say) todays level of technology, they have a good chance..

      Known and working tech + narrow problem = Engineering + Marketing = A working product

    • Longhorn's still got a chance.

  • It's a conspiracy! It's all set up by Michael Crichton so he can merge Disclosure and Timeline into one dual book for $40.

    On a more serious note... a fully operational quantum computing device in 3 years? Did they borrow their marketing/timeline departments from the Longhorn division of Micro$oft?

    • I think they borrowed it from the Nuclear Energy people. That's perpetually 15 years down the road, this will be perpetually 3 years down the road.

      Of course, it's a lot easier to get funding when you say "It'll work in 3 years!" as opposed to "We have no idea when this will work!"
  • got my hopes up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by n0rr1s (768407) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:28AM (#12879484)
    ... but it's not a proper quantum computer. It's based on tunneling, not entanglement. The latter is what everyone understands by the term 'quantum computer'. Their computer just requires knowledge of quantum theory to build it. Well, so do conventional computers...
    • Re:got my hopes up (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @05:52AM (#12879536)
      but it's not a proper quantum computer. It's based on tunneling, not entanglement.

      Nope, it is a quantum computer qubit. E.g. Google for "Cooper pair boxes"

      This is a solid state quantum computer, an artifical atom, where the state could be encoded as the presence or absence of charge on an island. It tunnels on and off quantum mechanically, creating a qubit. Its just how the underlying system works.

      Entanglement requires the coupling of more than one qubit, and is more part of the maths of QM. However, this may be done practically through capacitve or inductive coupling for the above devices.
      • Re:got my hopes up (Score:4, Informative)

        by internic (453511) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @07:44AM (#12879925)

        It sounds like what they're describing is actually a set of Josephson junctions. People think those might be able to be used a viable qubits; however, the trick is having and maintaining coherence. This is what allows quantum computation. From the description they give of this system, it sound like they're not concerned with long term coherence, only with using tunneling to perform a sort of "annealing" algorithm to find the lowest energy state. So I think the grandparent it right, this is not a quantum computer in the ordinary sense.

  • Is that no one will be able to tell accurately if one will exist or not in three years until it is actually observed. :>
  • Their site says

    Quantum computers can be used to get approximate solutions to large NP-complete optimization problems much more quickly than the best known methods running on any supercomputer.

    Did someone invent a quantum algorithm that makes a dent in NP-complete? News to me.
  • What's the big deal? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jpmorgan (517966) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @06:19AM (#12879603) Homepage
    People have been building quantum computers for years now. The biggest ones these days (around 14-qubits) are NMR quantum computers [], although that technique appears to have scalability issues.

    Seems to me that this is only news since they plan on selling quantum-CPU time.
    • I've always wanted a law named after myself. A few years ago I proposed Teppy's Law: "The number of qubits available in quantum computers will increase by one, every 18 months."

      If state of the art is now 14, I'm not far off.
  • QCL (Score:5, Informative)

    by miyako (632510) <[miyako] [at] []> on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @06:27AM (#12879621) Homepage Journal
    This is somewhat offtopic, but I ran across it a few months ago and it's really interesting. QCL [] allows you to write and run quantum algorithms. Runs on Linux and OS X with some tweaking.
    The documentation that comes with it is really interesting, and gives some good insights into how quantum computing works and how to write programs for a quantum computer.
  • by MaGogue (859961)
    We'd better start learning Q++; or better yet preparing the port to .quant platform.
    Start to code those void Byte2Qbyte(QBYTE* pOut, const BYTE *pIn) NOW!!

    We should start building an open source STL extension around template class QAlgo<..>, QBit<..>, ..

    It's going to be too late when they hit us with US patent #1.232.322.999 ..
    OR when they start outsorcing the Q++ development to India once more..
    This time, we gotta be ready!!!
  • Yow...

    I realize modern tech support doesn't need to know much to anything about electronics or computer hardware's innerworkings... but I wonder if quantum computers will change that... and how many years of school will quantum tech support need?


    It doesn't seem likely, but it'd be neat to have the title "Quantum Mechanic" EHEH!
    • by Linker3000 (626634) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @08:20AM (#12880147) Journal
      In other news, CompTIA have released a working draft for their new Q+ exam - it's suitable for any engineer with 6 months' hands-on experience of Quantum Mechanics and GR. The pass mark is 80% and all 20 questions on the exam must be answered simultaneously.
    • User: My computer's not working!
      Tech: Imagine that it's working and look at it again.
      User: Hey! How'd you do that?
    • "I realize modern tech support doesn't need to know much to anything about electronics or computer hardware's innerworkings."

      That really depends on what you are supporting. Yea if you work for Dell you don't need to know an interrupt from a hole in the ground but if you working for NVidia supplying developer support yea you do.
  • It's not like Windows is a viable option, and would Linux "scale" to one of these things?
  • It won't be a fully functional quantum computer of the sort long envisioned...

    (We'll have Quantum Pong(R) running on it.)
  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @07:08AM (#12879754) Homepage Journal
    Provided that your measurement either of "working" or "3 years" is sufficiently imprecise.
    • Of course, if they *do* manage to come out with something in three years, you can bet your little cotton socks that the NSA has had it for the last five years.

      That's why I always leave *my* data unencrypted, with just a header stating, "Encrypted message follows:"
      Drives the NSA guys nuts when their quantum decryptor auto-converts my dirty bomb plans into innocuous emails to friends.
  • They've been spending years allready with these quantum theories, en plans to make quantum computers... Millions and millions of dollars (or euro's, or whatever) are spent allready...

    And in 3 years we'll have a small beginning..

    All this... just to find out the answer is 42 ????

  • I don't think they understand the concept of the device. It can't be noisy if no one is there to hear it.
  • For the uninitiated lot (and who won't RTFA) Do note the non-trivial applications of a Quantum Computer:

    Application 1: Optimization

    [] []

    Quantum computers can be used to get approximate solutions to large NP-complete [] optimization problems much more quickly than the best known methods running on any supercomputer.

    Application 2: Quantum Simulation

    [] []

    Simulation has always been an important part of what conventional

    • I wouldn't trust any page that says something like this:

      One of the most interesting categories contains problems that are called NP-complete. These all have the feature that in order to solve the problem all possible solutions must be tried, and the number of possible solutions grows exponentially with the problem size.

      "All possible solutions must be tried" is just wrong, and has nothing to do with NP-completeness.

      I am not a Quantum Computing expert, but as far as I know there hasn't been much progress
  • by dankasfuk (885483)
    How long before Apple drops x86 and moves to QC architecture?
  • "D-Wave is on track to produce a special-purpose, "noisy" piece of quantum hardware that could solve many of the physical-simulation problems that stump today's computers

    All this for Doom 3 and The latest GTA? I mean, they stump my nvdia 5700 graphics card, but I am not about to go over the top.

    I think it will be the same, except, instead of mimesweeper, there will be a grid of boxes, complete with cyanide gas canisters and cats, and you have to somehow work out which are alive.

    Does this mean that Doom
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @08:09AM (#12880070)
    It will, however, be ideally suited to solving problems like the infamous traveling-salesman problem . . . D-Wave's chip performs exactly this type of calculation automatically, in seconds.

    How many seconds?
    Are they claiming that the travelling salesmen problem can be solved in polynomial time? This would be the biggest news to come out of the computer industry since the invention of the transistor. As far as I know, no quantum algorithms exist for solving NP complete problems such as the travelling salesmen problem. Can anyone here enlighten me?
    • by Karhgath (312043) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @09:56AM (#12880934)
      We'll, it's kinda cheating. The algorithm is STILL NP, but in quantum computing we can run all paths in parallel so we solve all possible combinaisons at once, which becomes polynomial. However, we have no way of finding the good answer at 100%.

      See, the problem in quantum computing is that you can have multiple states in parallel, but you can only 'read' one and lose all other states. This is like having a book with 400 pages, but when you open it, it selects (with a certain probability) a specific page and the whole book becomes that page, you lose all other pages.

      We need to make the system converge/interfere in a meaningful way to the correct solution, and in its own way, this is the challenge of QC. In the end, if our algorithm works, we will be able to get the answer to the travelling salesman problem with a probability (depending how good our convergence is). Just like our book above, we need to increase the chance of opening the book on the page with the correct solution. This is non-trivial.

      The thing is, the 'weight' of that convergence/meaningful interference, in problems like the travelling salesman, is usually as high as the time it takes to run the normal algorithm in classical computing. We end up not having much gains, it's not that fast. So, yes, if they are that good, we can solve the travelling salesman dilema in seconds... with a certain, probably very low %. Probably even a meaningless %.

      However, in problems like finding if a function is unanimous(f(x)=0 or f(x)=1 for all x) or balanced (f(x)=0 for exactly half of x and f(x)=1 for exactly the other half of x) could be done in quantum computer with no errors and very fast, while in classical computing you'd have to try each value of x. If you however allow a certain % of error, the classical way with a stochastic computer would work best (test only a certain pool of value).
  • by fizban (58094)

    I'll believe it when I see it...

    ...and when I don't.

    You know, that whole quantum thing...

  • I'd love to see a quantum computer! That'd be so cool. And it's the only way to implement my perfect chess program.

    But even if they do get this thing to succeed, with all the technical issues solved, the business model won't work. They want to sell solutions, not hardware? So company X asks a question, but the answer is only worthwhile if competing company Y can't ask the same question. The resolution is simple, company X will patent the question! Imagine how innovation can be stiffled now -- an order of
  • It will have six qubits and will be able to simulate an elevator and a traffic light.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @09:56AM (#12880925) Journal
    I am yet to see a description of a quantum computer that isn't plagued by decoherence problems. Basically, if you perturb a quantum computer by a small amount, e, then the wave function will diverge away from the idea state by exp(ket) for some constant k. So basically quantum computers will very rapidly start producing garbage. There are countless papers describing error correction but all this does is replace exp(ket) by exp(k'et) where k' is a bit smaller than k. Tthat exponential will still rapidly swallow the correction and give you decoherence before you can actually run anything. Some papers claim to get k right down to zero. But whenever you look you find they always make some assumtion about the system (ie. about various off diagonal terms in the Hamiltonian, the bits that give rise to these exponentials) and relaxing those assumptions ever so slightly (as is inevitable in the real world) brings back the exponential decay into decoherence.

    One or two bit at a time quantum computers - sure, we can build those. My hunch, however, is that to build an N bit quantum computer is exp(N) hard. I expect we will eventually have non-trivial quantum computers, but unfortunately the amount of effort to make them will be as much as the effort to build a classical machine that can simulate them. This isn't just nay-saying, unlike the claims that driving at over 30mph would kill humans, my claims are backed up by many physicists, in particular those that don't have a financial interest in quantum computers.

    On the other hand, quantum computer science is very interesting as a branch of mathematics and Shor's algorithm for factoring, for example, is a thing of beauty. So I don't blame people bluffing in order to get grant money. And I suppose I don't really hold it against researchers trying to get money out of venture capitalists this way either. Just as long as that money isn't coming out of any funds I'm investing in...

"Though a program be but three lines long, someday it will have to be maintained." -- The Tao of Programming