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The Cloud and Quantum Mechanics

A computer exists that can solve complex problems set for it by Google and NASA 11,000x faster than any traditional computer

A computer exists that’s been able to solve complex problems set for it by Google and NASA 11,000 times faster than any traditional supercomputer. And those were the simple problems.

On harder problems, it was 33,000 times faster and on the really hard problems it was reportedly 50,000 times faster.

It’s a so-called quantum computer build on the principles of quantum mechanics and Google and NASA thought enough of the thing to buy one at a cost of maybe $10 million-$15 million and set up a Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

There they’re going to try to advance machine learning, which, as Google says, is all about building better models of the world to make more accurate predictions. And that, from Google’s point-of-view, includes understanding spoken questions and what’s on the web so it can build a more useful and accurate search engine.

Other people want to use it to cure diseases and create effective environmental policies, both of which need better models, and they’ll get a chance because the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) will get time on the machine and make it available to researchers from around the world.

Together they’ll try move from theory to practice, building real solutions on quantum hardware.

Google says hopefully, “We actually think quantum machine learning may provide the most creative problem-solving process under the known laws of physics.”

The machine they’ll be working on was built in Canada by D-Wave Systems, where Egenera founder and former Goldman Sachs CIO Vern Brownell is CEO.

It’s a second-generation machine. D-Wave only sold one of its first-generation 128-qubit D-Wave One commercial systems. That went to Lockheed Martin, which recently upgraded it to the new D-Wave Two machine Google and NASA are getting.

D-Wave sees the technology being heavily applied to the cloud. In fact it talks of a quantum cloud with a few high-end traditional servers at the back-end. Coincidently enough Google figures the best use of quantum computing is to combine quantum machines with the traditional machines in its clouds.

The D-Wave computer works by considering complex problems in terms of optimal outcomes. It can just consider more possible outcomes simultaneously and shake out the one that meets all the variables faster and with the least expenditure of energy than any other modern computer.

It considers the problem in terms of energy states and applies quantum physics to magically come up with the answer.

The technique is called quantum annealing.

And a quantum computer isn’t like a standard computer that represents data in bits that are either on or off, 1 or 0. Nope, a 10-quantum bit computer, or 10-qubit computer, can simultaneously represent data in 1,024 states,

Inside the D-Wave Two box are now 512 problem-solving qubits and its superconducting processor reportedly has to be cooled to near absolute zero.

NASA and Google reportedly mean to upgrade to 2.048 qubits sometime in the next year or two.

D-Wave has been working the kinks out of the esoteric widgetry since 1999 and in the process has gotten at least $61 million – well, maybe it’s closer to $100 million – in funding from such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos through his venture arm Bezos Expeditions, In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture boys, and of course Goldman Sachs.

Other believers who contributed include Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Harris &Harris Group, the Business Development Bank of Canada, BC Investment Management Corporation and Growth Works Capital among others.

The NASA-Google machine is currently being installed at Moffet Field and should be in use by fall. It is expected to be considered by financial services, healthcare and national security.

D-Wave just set up a US company in Palo Alto earlier this month to overcome any national security objections to dealing with a Canadian concern. It hired Bo Ewald as president and head of global customer operations.

Bo has run SGI and was president, COO and CTO at Cray Research, CEO and chairman of Linux Networx, e-Stamp, and most recently Perceptive Pixel. He started his career at the Los Alamos National Lab.

The company has also hired Steve Cakebread, another SGI veteran, as CFO. He used to be president and CFO of Salesforce.com and after that CFO of Pandora.

See here.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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