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The CIA and Jeff Bezos Bet $30 Million On Quantum Computing Company

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the always-bet-on-qubits dept.

Government 73

An anonymous reader writes "The CIA's investment fund, In-Q-Tel, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have invested $30 million in a Canadian company that claims to build quantum computers, reports Technology Review in a detailed story on why that startup, D-Wave, appears to be attracting serious interest after years of skepticism from experts. A spokesman for In-Q-Tel says that intelligence agencies 'have many complex problems that tax classical computing architecture,' a feeling apparently strong enough to justify a bet on a radically different, and largely unproven, approach to computing."

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Why was this post headining coloured red? (-1, Offtopic)

Unitedroad (1026162) | about 2 years ago | (#41554417)

Another ephermal slashdot *feature*?

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554429)

I've seen this before, and I think it's to do with 0 comments. Although I seem to remember seeing 0 comment stories without red headers.

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554489)

Because they ran out of blue.

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554505)

You want to get you eyes checked

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554529)

is a real quantum computer powerful enough to figure out why negroes are the underachievers of the world?

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554691)

I'm willing to bet it's the fact that in the harsh african ecosystem, it pays to be bigger and more aggressive than smart.

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41560225)

yes. and apparently a real quantum computer is powerful enough to design a eugenics program complete enough to eradicate genetic scum like yourself

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (0)

RobbieCrash (834439) | about 2 years ago | (#41554707)

I thought it was for subscription freebies, but none of you people have subscriptions.

Unless you're just hiding them.

Re: Why was this post headining coloured red? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554761)

You're correct. Sometimes the system messes up, though, and displays them anyway.

D-Wave might actually be legitimate (5, Interesting)

AdmiralXyz (1378985) | about 2 years ago | (#41554499)

Just a quick FYI: for those of you still assuming that D-Wave is a bunch of snake-oil salesman (like I did for a long time), take a look at this bit from Ars Technica [arstechnica.com] . Basically what they've built is not a genuine quantum computer, but a sort of "quantum optimizer" that delivers speedups for some kinds of problems. Their crime might be that they just use too much marketing hyperbole, instead of being complete frauds.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (5, Insightful)

exomondo (1725132) | about 2 years ago | (#41554783)

The accuracy is the fundamental problem, with no error correction (or at least indications that there is an error), which is one of the biggest problems with their approach, it's worse than useless. In the protein folding experiment it got the correct answer just 13 out of 10,000 times [nature.com] .

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (5, Interesting)

w_dragon (1802458) | about 2 years ago | (#41554855)

That depends on the problem. I assume the CIA wants it for breaking encryption, which means they want it for factoring large numbers. That's a problem that is really hard for a normal computer to do, but really easy for it to verify. If factoring a 1024 bit number takes 10000 tries, and each try takes a second, you're still several orders of magnitude better than the current state of the art and you've rendered many of the current common encryption schemes useless.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (1)

exomondo (1725132) | about 2 years ago | (#41554901)

Assuming you can actually get it that fast.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554927)

The NSA wants it for decryption and is smart enough to know an adiabatic quantum computer can't be applied to factorization problems. The CIA wants it for the same reason Google did, image comparison.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (4, Informative)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41554867)

In the protein folding experiment it got the correct answer just 13 out of 10,000 times.

Getting the right answer once can be good enough. It depends on how the relative cost of checking if an answer is correct. I gather this would be used to figure out NP complete problems (which I might add, the protein folding experiment may not be in) where finding the answer isn't known to be doable in polynomial time, but it can be checked in polynomial time.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41557059)

Getting it right 13 times out of 10000 tries is good enough if the other 9,987 tries result in error returns or unique wrong answers - their theoretical limit is 50% correct results anyway, as far as I know.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556427)

The thing is that most proteins fold with the help of other proteins and cell organelles such as the Golgi complex, and if you don't have information about all of them, it's basically impossible to predict the "correct" folding.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554991)

A soap bubble is also a "quantum optimizer" that delivers speedups for solving the minimum surface tension to contain a given volume of gas. But a soap bubble is more useful than any D-Wave snake-oil.

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556641)

Just a quick FYI: for those of you still assuming that D-Wave is a bunch of snake-oil salesman

You mean, for those of us who won't buy their marketing bullshit without actually seeing them prove they can actually do what they claim.

You want to know why people have invested in them? Here's why:

General Brown: "But when did the Soviets begin this type of research?"
Brigadier General Dean Hopgood: "Well, sir... It looks like they found out about our attempt to telepathically communicate with one of our nuclear subs. The Nautilus, while it was under the Polar cap."
Brown: "What attempt?"
Hopgood: "There was no attempt. It seems the story was a French hoax. But the Russians think the story about the story being a French hoax is just a story, sir. "
Brown: "So, they've started psi research because they thought we were doing psi research, when in fact we weren't doing psi research?"
Hopgood: "Yes, sir. But now that they're doing psi research, we're gonna have to do psi research, sir. We can't afford to have the Russians leading the field in the paranormal."

That's why..

Re:D-Wave might actually be legitimate (1)

hweimer (709734) | about 2 years ago | (#41556707)

I think the big questions are how "quantum" (i.e., coherent) their devices actually are and whether this makes them more useful than their classical counterparts. And, if quantum optimization is a good idea to begin with [doi.org] .

That's not even pocket change for either of them.. (2)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 2 years ago | (#41554533)

That's like me betting a nickle. Strike that. A plug nickle.

Re:That's not even pocket change for either of the (1)

msauve (701917) | about 2 years ago | (#41554743)

Sure wish Bezos would spend a nickle to make Amazon search actually work.

Re:That's not even pocket change for either of the (2)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#41555075)

Sure wish Bezos would spend a nickle to make Amazon search actually work.

Is 13 out of 10000 tries good enough?

Re:That's not even pocket change for either of the (1)

BenJCarter (902199) | about 2 years ago | (#41555479)

No kidding. When they bet a few Billion, we'll know our future robot overlord has achieved a major milestone.

Products are shipping! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554539)

In fact, I have one of their systems right here, still sealed in its box. On the box is a sticker, "this box contains a quantum computer. Once the box is opened and you look inside, it may either be there, or not be there".

Oh wait, that scheme doesn't work anymore... [slashdot.org]

Re:Products are shipping! (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41556463)

In fact, I have one of their systems right here, still sealed in its box. On the box is a sticker, "this box contains a quantum computer. Once the box is opened and you look inside, it may either be there, or not be there".

Oh wait, that scheme doesn't work anymore... [slashdot.org]

well. their products are shipping.

nobody seems to be any good at explaining why they're worth the money though, like providing a classical problem that gets solved by them better than a 2k pc.

If only there were a way to determine... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554673)

if they will or will not deliver.

What is it with these public-private partnerships? (3, Funny)

js33 (1077193) | about 2 years ago | (#41554683)

The CIA's investment fund, In-Q-Tel,

You know, the government has absolutely no business running an investment fund, especially a "secret" one where it looks like there's no meaningful oversight. This is we the people's money, and we the people have no interest in being the angel to some sleazy fly-by-night foreign start-up who just wants to suck at Uncle Sam's ever-so-generous teat.

Re:What is it with these public-private partnershi (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 years ago | (#41554739)

I think its rather obvious that it's not secret... since we're talking about it. I'd rather the CIA be investing in new technologies and improving society. At least they didn't spend $30 million starting a war somewhere.

Re:What is it with these public-private partnershi (1)

Anarchduke (1551707) | about 2 years ago | (#41555535)

they have a different department for starting wars.

Re:What is it with these public-private partnershi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554835)

You mean you the person. I hardly think you speak on behalf of the population.

Re:What is it with these public-private partnershi (5, Insightful)

strat (39913) | about 2 years ago | (#41554883)

The short answer is that the times have changed from back when government-funded applied research was a primary source of startup innovations. The reality is that small companies move faster and are more able to adjust to surprises in an agile manner than the Government. Now the tables have turned and the Government needs mechanisms to find new things because it's certainly not inventing them all in-house.

Speaking as one of the other members of the population, I have a few mixed feelings about the government using public funds for equity buys. Conversely, if that mechanism allows the USG to more rapidly gain access to novel inventions than they have and those inventions optimize the Government's performance, it's a drop in the bucket and probably saving the taxpayers a bundle.

If you find Google Earth useful, thank In-Q-Tel. When the startup that produced that technology was financed, only realtors in California had ever heard of it.

(Yes, I'm a little biased. I have been a part of some public-private partnerships that have performed well.)

Re:What is it with these public-private partnershi (1)

js33 (1077193) | about 2 years ago | (#41555745)

If you find Google Earth useful, thank In-Q-Tel.

I still can't get over the feeling that public money was spent for private gain, and it just isn't right in my book. If the government's intent had anything to do with getting a monetary return on investment, it would liquidate that fund, use the proceeds to pay down the debt, and let us the people decide how to invest our own money. If, on the other hand, the government's intent is to stimulate certain research, there needs to be a more ethical way to do it than giving away intellectual property monopolies to private parties for research done on the public dime.

The public is taking a lot of risk in these partnerships, and the big gains are staying in private pockets. It smells like baksheesh, and I just don't like it.

What does quantum computing mean for developers? (5, Funny)

proca (2678743) | about 2 years ago | (#41554699)

If I'm still developing when quantum computing becomes ubiquitous, how will programming work? Will booleans suddenly have 8 states? True, False, KindaTrue, MostlyFalse, Truthiness, TotallyBogus, WayCool, Cowabunga?

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554769)

It lets you test every factor of a large composite number at once and pull out the answer probabilistically, thus allowing you to (e.g.) break AES in polynomial time.

That's when all kinds of shit will hit the fan.

Right now they're not quite big enough to handle a 256-bit key. We're closer to 4 qbits, at present.

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556137)

No, that's not right. The best improvement you can get on AES using a quantum computer and known quantum algorithms is using Grover's algorithm [wikipedia.org] , which effectively makes attacking a 256-bit cipher as easy as a 128-bit cipher (note there are some minor known attacks [wikipedia.org] on AES), but even with that improvement AES-256 is still secure (perhaps AES-128 starts looking a little iffy).

But there is one very important caveat to this discussion: AES is only secure if the keys are secret. Use of AES in the real world often (ex. for SSL or SSH) involves an AES key being agreed upon over a public key encryption system like RSA, and a quantum computer can break RSA in polynomial time (it would need more than 256 qubits, though).

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (2)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 2 years ago | (#41554811)

No need to wait. I have a quantum computer right here in my pocket. It's called a coin. You want eight possible states? Add three more nodes. It's highly efficient for answering life's toughest questions. And if I don't like the answer I can try again.

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#41554863)

If I'm still developing when quantum computing becomes ubiquitous, how will programming work?

By that time, you should be past programming and have reached the management level; the questions at that level are of the nature of: what's the probability for the project to finish by X date, within Y budget and deliver Z?

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554885)

By that time, you should be past programming and have reached the management level; the questions at that level are of the nature of: what's the probability for the project to finish by X date, within Y budget and deliver Z?

Lets ask our Quantum Computer ?

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555897)

X*(Y*2/Z-1) finishing date, but managers typically misread it as X*(Y*2/2-1), which is why deadlines are always set impossibly soon. Just to clarify, X is ten years from any starting date (3650 days). Delivered Z is antecedent penalty; a reciprocal of the sum of all previous & related technologies squared 1/((q1+q2+q3...)^2). That's why it can take millions of dollars to shorten development time by mere days; the fancy equipment budget negates the penalty of the antecedent technologies. Reinventing the wheel is when a budget of under $20 results in a "yesterday" finishing time, which is a symptom of a project delivering last-age tech (stone,bronze,steel,etc.). New tools and science push the next-age, which means gradually eroding the antecedents impact. Because of how many underlying projects led to current ones this-age, there's currently a very heavy price to get anything done quickly.

Better tools and scientific knowledge need to become ubiquitous, or else the cost of pushing technology forward grows ridiculous, it's burden becomes too high and new advancement stagnates.

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (1)

AdamStarks (2634757) | about 2 years ago | (#41555475)

You forgot FileNotFound!

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (1)

root_42 (103434) | about 2 years ago | (#41556615)

Nah, more like "True", "False" and "CowboyNeal".

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41557631)

if you program in c, booleans have some 4 billion possible states

Re:What does quantum computing mean for developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41559673)

I was going to say, you forgot MU, but on reflection i guess Cowabunga covers that.

Admiral Ackbar says.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41554879)

It's a TRAP!!

DWAVE = CIA front.

It was going to be accomplished by the commercial industry eventually, best stay involved.

Last thing the US needs is terrorists with quantum computers that could crack encryption or make cracking their encryption very annoying. This way they can "help" by developing weaknesses / backdoors etc.

More $$$ (2)

Patent Lover (779809) | about 2 years ago | (#41554963)

Is the CIA once again hoping some expensive technology will actually allow them to finally get something right?

Re:More $$$ (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#41555079)

Since much of what the CIA does is, in fact, secret, it seems odd that you would imply that they have a poor record of performance. My knowledge of their actions, aside from what I have learned from Covert Affairs, is dominated by the few screwups that actually become public in one form or another. Do you have some privileged knowledge that you would like to share?

Re:More $$$ (1)

Patent Lover (779809) | about 2 years ago | (#41555115)

The bomber gap, Bay of Pigs, Shah of Iran, Vietnam, Fall of the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Iraq,

Re:More $$$ (2)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#41555139)

Is this supposed to be some sort of refutation? If I listed seven things you screwed up in your life, would that damn you eternally?

My point was simple, but I will restate it here for your edification: Their job is secret; they don't tell us what they do, as a rule; you and I have no basis for judging their performance; they may (or may not) have had many major successes that we would celebrate if we knew of them.

We just don't know.

Re:More $$$ (1)

Patent Lover (779809) | about 2 years ago | (#41555183)

They don't have to tell us what they do. They just have to tell us why they have so many obvious fuckups of gigantic proportions. If I were them, I'd be glad to tell us what great things they have done. Haven't seen any.

Re:More $$$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555869)

Parent's point stands: just because "Patent Lover" would gloat, does not mean that the CIA would.

Re:More $$$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556675)

Vietnam didn't suddenly spring into existence when the CIA showed up, and last I checked it involved more than a few people who weren't CIA. Calling that a CIA screwup simply shows you have no knowledge or understanding of history or world events.

As for the Soviet Union, wait you're calling that a CIA failure? Mind to explain that logic? The Cold War wasn't just the CIA vs. the entire Soviet Bloc, so I'm not sure how you can just say they were responsible for the whole thing.

Yea, there have been some CIA screwups. When they screw up it ends up going public. They don't advertise success, something you obviously don't understand. To throw in the obligatory Futurama quote, "If you're doing things right, nobody can tell that you're even doing anything at all."

Re:More $$$ (1)

Patent Lover (779809) | about 2 years ago | (#41564861)

I called the CIA "fuckups", which they are. The CIA had no clue about the fall of the Soviet Union, the one country they surveiled 24/7. I didn't say they were responsible for anything, just that they spent a shitload of $$$ for nothing. They are free to advertize their successes. They never do. (other than arming Bid Laden back when he only fought the Soviets).

Re:More $$$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555483)

The incompetence of intelligence agencies like the CIA is absolutely legendary.

Vietnam? Indochina? Latin America? Either you're woefully ignorant of what has happened on the planet in the past century, or you're trying to be funny.

Re:More $$$ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555551)

Besides the failed coups and assassinations, what's there to show incompetence? They're evil, but by no means incompetent.

Re:More $$$ (1)

HuguesT (84078) | about 2 years ago | (#41586419)

I do not mean to heap on poor CIA etc, but only 4 letters:

9/11

Re:More $$$ (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 2 years ago | (#41555737)

The problem is when the CIA "screwed up .. your life" is usually some small hot war in a distant land... Vietnam was great for drug profits and systems testing but no so good for the people who could not 'study' or 'faith' their way out of the draft.

Re:More $$$ (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41556121)

well, if every operation we know of got fucked up.
now we know that they invested in dwave.

leaving us with a good chance of dwave being a fuckup.

also, when's the last time usa acted on genuinely good intel from cia and not reuters? osama slaying?

missed the bus (0)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#41555167)

Wow, they missed the bus on that one! Why not invest in bitcoins instead? lol. Ohhhhh, you might be able to mine bitcoins with a quantum computer. That's tricky, lol.
Btw nobody tell them that although the chip runs on magic (paraphrased), the speed of data in or out depends on the bus speed of the board it's in. So that really limits the ability to use it to its full potential.

Re:missed the bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556051)

If they had a computer and polynomial (in difficulty) time algorithm for generating Bitcoin they would likely be better off aiming to crack the fattest wallets that coins have moved away from, a new kind of mining if you like.

Also, kudos on two uses of bus!

Re:missed the bus (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#41556489)

Sorry, I don't understand what point you're trying to make. You're decrying quantum computing as useless because we can only feed data into it at a finite speed, which may or not cause a bottleneck?

It isnt a bet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555407)

It's an investment

Re:It isnt a bet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555821)

Take a bet, put a bow tie on it, and now it's an investment.

Re:It isnt a bet (1)

cobraR478 (1416353) | about 2 years ago | (#41556081)

An investment can be a positive sum game for society. A bet is zero sum game. They are inherently different. Can you, inidividually, lose your shirt in both cases? Definitely yes. However, people investing in other people's ideas, inventions, business models, etc. is a significant part of the reason why you and I are able to have this exchange over the internet today. Gambling isn't capable of such an amazing feat.

A Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41555781)

Question: What does the Thing That Calls Itself Jeff Bezos actually know about Schrodinger's Equation?

Answer: NOTHIN is a Rats Ass.

No doubt Mr. Bezos performed oral sex with a certain CIA Man ... and as they say ... all is self evident.

A test of faith (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#41556279)

Perhaps this investment is a true test of faith in quantum mechanics. If you are pretty sure the probability that this company will succeed is non-zero, then perhaps in one universe this investment will pay off. Even if in this universe, the investment goes belly up, in another universe, you will be rich. Maybe then you can live vicarously in that knowlege... If you are true believer, that is ;^)

"many complex problems"? Yeah right. (1)

White Flame (1074973) | about 2 years ago | (#41556349)

They only have 1 complex problem they're trying to pursue; breaking crypto systems.

Re:"many complex problems"? Yeah right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41556695)

They only have 1 complex problem they're trying to pursue; breaking crypto systems.

Right, because they'd never need to solve complex problems such as running facial recognition on several billion faces in real time or developing high-response AI for unmanned craft.
Just because YOU can only think of one use doesn't mean they can't think of others.

Re:"many complex problems"? Yeah right. (1)

Magada (741361) | about 2 years ago | (#41557015)

Two at least. Their attention-deficit problem is at least as stringent.

Scott Aaronson's comments (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about 2 years ago | (#41557053)

Anyone interested in D-wave owes it to themselves to read up on the many blog posts written byScott Aaronson [scottaaronson.com] on the subject. I'll leave it up to the readers to challenge or assert his observations, none-the-less, they are a good read on this subject.

the D-wave team seems weak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41558127)

The Chief Scientist is only a BS from UCLA? The question is not even whether quantum computing is plausible; it is rather whether it is accessible by D-wave.

Lulz.. (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | about 2 years ago | (#41563601)

Goes to show you even the CIA and Bezos can be scammed by snake oil salesmen.
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