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First Evidence That Google's Quantum Computer May Not Be Quantum After All

samzenpus posted about 8 months ago | from the emperor's-new-keyboard dept.

Google 224

KentuckyFC writes "In May last year, Google and NASA paid a reported $15 million for a quantum computer from the controversial Canadian start up D-Wave Systems. One question mark over the device is whether it really is quantum or just a conventional computer in disguise. That's harder to answer than it sounds, not least because any direct measurement of a quantum state destroys it. So physicists have to take an indirect approach. They assume the computer is a black box in which they can input data and receive an output. Given this input and output, the question is whether this computing behavior can be best reproduced by a classical or a quantum algorithm. Last summer, an international team of scientists compared a number of classical algorithms against an algorithm that relies on a process called quantum annealing. Their conclusion was that quantum annealing best reproduces the D-Wave computer's behavior, a result that was a huge boon for the company. Now a group from UC Berkeley and IBM's Watson Research Lab says it has a found a classical algorithm that explains the results just as well, or even better, than quantum annealing. In other words, the results from the D-Wave machine could just as easily be explained if it was entirely classical. That comes on the back of mounting evidence that the D-Wave computer may not cut the quantum mustard in other ways too. Could it be that Google and NASA have forked out millions for a classical calculator?"

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It makes me feel better (5, Funny)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | about 8 months ago | (#46141071)

I am at such a loss of understanding what exactly quantum computers are and how they work (no matter how hard I try)... so it makes me feel like less of an idiot when I find out that it's so complicated that even Google engineers aren't even sure if what they have IS one.

Re:It makes me feel better (-1, Flamebait)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 8 months ago | (#46141151)

LMOL...the difference is they're suppose to know. So while you're an idiot, they're not suppose to be taken in by a snake oil salesman. FYI a quantum computer is not a black box.

Re:It makes me feel better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141235)

LMOL...

Lizards mate on leaves? What does that have to do with anything?

FYI a quantum computer is not a black box.

So the problem is they went white-box to save some money and didn't get what they bargained for?

Re:It makes me feel better (5, Funny)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46141269)

FYI a quantum computer is not a black box.

Well, it doesn't matter what color you paint the box, so long as there are enough entangled cats inside. </highlytechnicaldescription>

Re:It makes me feel better (5, Funny)

lagomorpha2 (1376475) | about 8 months ago | (#46141343)

It simultaneously is an isn't a quantum computer until you observe it.

Re:It makes me feel better (2)

Suki I (1546431) | about 8 months ago | (#46141283)

Just like a write off [youtube.com] ? They know!

Apparently opening one of these things and looking at its innards violates the warranty really bad.

Re:It makes me feel better (4, Funny)

bobbied (2522392) | about 8 months ago | (#46141337)

Just like a write off [youtube.com] ? They know!

Apparently opening one of these things and looking at its innards violates the warranty really bad.

Yea, the manufacturer has kittens when you open it..

Re:It makes me feel better (4, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | about 8 months ago | (#46141297)

LMOL...the difference is they're suppose to know.

The point is that no one knows. Yeah, everyone knows that the D-Wave device is a rather different approach than "traditional" quantum computers, but that doesn't mean it can't exploit the same effects... until the research determines that it doesn't.

It's also the case that even if it's not actually a quantum computer there may still be some way the concept can be extended to become a useful device, which may be discovered through experimentation. Or maybe it can't. Research is like that.

(Disclaimer: I'm a Google engineer, but don't work on anything remotely as interesting as quantum computing, and don't know much about it.)

Re:It makes me feel better (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141845)

This difference is clearly explained on the D-wave Systems website in the technical documentation. They decided to go ahead with a practical quantum computer now rather than wait for some abstract pure quantum-state computer to be developed in the future. Kinda like folks buying a Wireless AC access point today when the AC Wi-Fi spec will be much better implemented in products a few years down the road. Time is money.

Re:It makes me feel better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141901)

Disclaimer: I'm a Google engineer

Vade retro!

Re:It makes me feel better (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141245)

It reminds me a bit of when genetic algorithms were considered almost magical in their ability to solve problems, where you didn't have to understand how they solved the problem in order to use them -- until, of course, you found that they didn't do what they were trained to do once they got outside of their training set.

Re:It makes me feel better (4, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | about 8 months ago | (#46141317)

All I can offer you is a quantum of solace.

Re:It makes me feel better (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 8 months ago | (#46142789)

All I can offer you is a quantum of solace.

The six people in the world that understood that movie title thank you.

Wat? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142837)

How can you misunderstand the title?

A quick overview (5, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 8 months ago | (#46142049)

Quantum effects are not hard to understand, they're just counter-intuitive to everyday experience. This site [lesswrong.com] has a good explanation of QM, and how it differs from normal experience.

The universe doesn't work in specifics until something is measured. It doesn't choose parameters for particles (spin, position, &c) at the outset and let things evolve like little billiard balls.

Instead, it uses probabilities which flow and interact with one another. These probabilities have both amplitude and phase, so that the interactions are wave-like as well as probability-like. For example, because of this wave-like interaction it's possible for two non-zero probability flows to completely cancel to zero.

The universe appears to calculate probabilities for all possible outcomes and only choose one when the measurement is made. When particles are entangled, you increase the number of possible outcomes. For each new particle that becomes entangled you increase the number of possible outcomes by a factor of two. Ten particles will have 2^10 = 1024 possible outcomes, and so on.

So to do math at the quantum level, you take a set of entangled particles and set up the measurement so that division with no remainder has probability one while division with any other remainder has probability zero. Then load your register with all the integers, let the probabilities interact, and take the measurement.

You have just performed division using all the integers at once.

If you can do this with a reasonably large register you can check all the factors of a composite number in linear time - the time it takes you to load sqrt(P) divisors into the register.

Easy peasy!

An interesting side-note is the idea of the universe keeping track of all possible outcomes until a measurement is made. If this works as predicted, the universe will have to keep track of 2^3000 possible outcomes, depending on the key length (3000 is the recommended RSA key length to be secure until 2030).

There are only ~10^80 = 2^240 atoms in the universe. If a quantum computer works as predicted, one wonders how and where the universe keeps track of all these states. At the very least, quantum computing is interesting because it will allow us to probe the limits of the universe in an entirely new domain.

Here's hoping we don't encounter a buffer overflow.

(Note: Some facts were harmed in the making of this explanation.)

Re:It makes me feel better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142577)

If I've understood it correctly, they are crazy fast at a certain class of computations, because (thanks to quantum mechanics) they can essentially process all potential values at the same time. However, it is entirely possible that I have not understood it correctly.

Deepak Chopra (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142757)

Quantum computers are based on Deepak Chopra's Quantum theories. The computers are designed to by one with the Universe or something or another.

SUCABA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141075)

the best computer ever !

In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141103)

"Cut the quantum mustard" just became my new favorite catchphrase.

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141361)

"Cut the quantum cheese" is mine.

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141399)

"Cut the quantum cheese" is mine.

So that's what killed the cat.

Quantum Cash! (2, Insightful)

JDeane (1402533) | about 8 months ago | (#46141147)

Why buy something that isn't demonstratively faster than the old stuff...

I mean if the difference is so small that there is some sort of debate about if it is effectively working or not, then it seems to me at that point cost should be the deciding factor. I doubt these D Wave machines are any cheaper than the old stuff.

Re:Quantum Cash! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141193)

I'll bet you wish you could factor numbers hundreds of digits long at will.

Re:Quantum Cash! (4, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | about 8 months ago | (#46141233)

Why buy something that isn't demonstratively faster than the old stuff

Research often requires baby steps. If you ignore every new idea whose first (or hundredth!) iteration isn't already better than what we have, you'll ignore every new idea.

Re:Quantum Cash! (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46142033)

Unfortunately, D-Wave's proprietary approach is getting in the way of proper "baby-steps" research. Before you go selling a zillion-qbit $15M black-box system, productive research would involve letting independent research groups perform stringent tests for "quantumness" on, e.g., a simplified 2-bit system. D-Wave is selling an obfuscated system, getting in the way of low-level bare-hardware fundamentals that really advance research.

Re:Quantum Cash! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141267)

You buy the machine to do research on it. If there really is quantum magic inside, maybe you can make use of it in an unexpected way.

As it turns out, there probably isn't any quantum magic inside, but to Google, $15M is cheap, and maybe worth the chance..

Re:Quantum Cash! (4, Informative)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 8 months ago | (#46141309)

Before this research, it was demonstrably faster at some things, and slower at things a quantum computer is not good at. So they did exactly what you expect.

Re:Quantum Cash! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141463)

Not only that quantum computing does not magically make computing faster.

For things that are serial you are still stuck waiting on previous results. For things that are parallel already quantum compute *may* be faster if you you can get past the sorts of things that hold back amdals law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law

Things such as setup time and network communications and even the simple ability to break it apart into parallel tasks.

Re:Quantum Cash! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141991)

It was demonstrably faster than a specific implementation of a classical algorithm on a desktop computer ... after that paper was published it subsequently became demonstrably slower than a different specific implementation of a classical algorithm on a desktop (by a huge margin as well).

Re:Quantum Cash! (5, Informative)

Warbothong (905464) | about 8 months ago | (#46142155)

Why buy something that isn't demonstratively faster than the old stuff...

I mean if the difference is so small that there is some sort of debate about if it is effectively working or not, then it seems to me at that point cost should be the deciding factor. I doubt these D Wave machines are any cheaper than the old stuff.

Part of the problem has been D-Wave's confusing abuse of terminology:

1) They claim their device is a computer, but it's not according to the usual definition (a Turing machine with bounded tape (RAM)). It's more similar to an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit).
2) They claim their device is a quantum computer, but it's not according to the usual definition (a device which requires quantum phenomena to operate). There is some evidence it uses quantum effects, but they don't appear fundamental to its operation (otherwise we wouldn't be having this quantum-or-not merry-go-round).
3) They claim their device solves its (application-specific) problem 35,000x faster than a classical machine, but in fact they had programmed the classical machine with a much harder problem (finding an exact solution, rather than an approximate one). When a classical computer was programmed to solve the same problem as D-Wave's machine, the classical machine was faster.
4) They consistently conflate quantum algorithms (algorithms inspired by quantum mechanics) with quantum computing (which requires quantum mechanics to operate). Their machine implements a 'quantum simulated annealing' algorithm, but this doesn't require a quantum computer to run. Likewise, a regular 'simulated annealing' algorithm doesn't require a heat engine to run. Likewise a 'genetic algorithm' doesn't require a DNA-based computer to run.
5) They keep moving the goalposts to remain as impressive-but-vague as possible. Rather than showing definitive results to back up their claims, they keep making claims then weakening them afterwards when researchers show them to be false. This is like an inverse No-True-Scotsman; academics have a clear definition of what a quantum computer is, and D-Wave keep trying to expand that definition it to include their machines.

In short, Google and NASA bought their machines when there were claims bouncing around about 35,000x speedups, but these were subsequently found to be flawed.

I'm all for investing in basic research, but it often looks like D-Wave's research output is coming from their marketing department rather than their scientists and engineers :(

Who cares? (2, Insightful)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 8 months ago | (#46141153)

Obviously, you don't have a use for a quantum computer if you can't find a way to determine if it's a quantum computer. If it's just speed, what you want is a super-computer. If it's the ability to perform certain calculations, they simply don't work on a classical computer (or take eternity, even for a super-computer).

Re:Who cares? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141243)

Obviously, you don't have a use for a quantum computer if you can't find a way to determine if it's a quantum computer. If it's just speed, what you want is a super-computer. If it's the ability to perform certain calculations, they simply don't work on a classical computer (or take eternity, even for a super-computer).

Thanks for your insightful input. We do not understand this computer stuff. Is it true that red leds won't make our P-III server run any faster?

Google

Re:Who cares? (2, Funny)

ybanrab (2556762) | about 8 months ago | (#46141447)

Negative, each red LED makes the computer 1(one) faster. A P-III with one red LED is functionally equivalent to a P-IV.

Unfortunately, given predominance of heteronormative patriarchal culture, PIV is problematic and females cannot be said to have truly consented to using these machines.

This is why Apple products don't have red LEDs, and are popular with females whilst technically 1(one) slower. Most females can detect attempts to 'red light' PIV consent even remotely, so unless you can identify server traffic by bit-gender it's best to use the slower machines.

If you can identify bit-gender reliably, masculine traffic is unproblematic processed by PIV methods, feminine traffic should be directed to a cluster of co-operating P-III servers.

Hope that helps.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141761)

Negative, each red LED makes the computer 1(one) faster. A P-III with one red LED is functionally equivalent to a P-IV. Unfortunately, given predominance of heteronormative patriarchal culture, PIV is problematic and females cannot be said to have truly consented to using these machines. This is why Apple products don't have red LEDs, and are popular with females whilst technically 1(one) slower. Most females can detect attempts to 'red light' PIV consent even remotely, so unless you can identify server traffic by bit-gender it's best to use the slower machines. If you can identify bit-gender reliably, masculine traffic is unproblematic processed by PIV methods, feminine traffic should be directed to a cluster of co-operating P-III servers. Hope that helps.

Interesting, a bad wannabe comedian with a UID around 2.5 million spouting misogynist bullshit. Big surprise.

Re: Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141953)

That's not a funny answer. Please reparse input and respond with the blue caps-lock light on.

This is not a funny answer either but the real funny ones are the reason i read /. comments.

Re:Who cares? (3, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#46141257)

Obviously, you don't have a use for a quantum computer if you can't find a way to determine if it's a quantum computer.

Unless the act of trying to find out changes the answer, of course.

Re:Who cares? (2, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | about 8 months ago | (#46141583)

> Obviously, you don't have a use for a quantum computer if you can't find a way to determine if it's a
> quantum computer

This. How are they even programming this thing? As I understand it, a quantum computer doesn't just take your classical function and execute it faster; but instead would come at the problem via an algorithm designed to find the answer using algorithms that rely on quantum effects.

Is there any reason to believe a quantum computer algorithm, run through a classical system, should produce the correct answer?

I mean, i am sure the people testing this understand it at a deeper level than I do, but I am surprised that this is so hard to verify.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Megol (3135005) | about 8 months ago | (#46141631)

It isn't programmed - it is a fixed solver for a certain problem. A problem that is faster to solve on a regular x86 notebook computer.

Re:Who cares? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about 8 months ago | (#46142403)

Ahhh so instead of writing a custom solver, they transform the problem into one solved by the particular problem that it solves? Interesting. So either it doesn't have enough qubits to demonstrate its abilities on a hard enough problem; or its a bogus classically based solver? Interesting.

Of course, it is little more than a paperweight either way. Maybe if there were visibility to its internals, it might be a learning tool but, without even that, its hard to see what good it is if you can't even distinguish it from a classical system.

Re:Who cares? (2)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 8 months ago | (#46142063)

Your point doesn't make sense. If they are TESTING quantum states, they are obviously creating what they think are quantum logic gates -- and NO this isn't going to work faster than their desktop computer. It's not like they've got an entire CPU or the ability to recognize the states faster.

I'm guessing that a Quantum computer would be great for finding data sets like "is the answer within this range" -- as all the results could be superimposed, but no state found. So if you were suing one to crack a password, you would say; In this range of 3 billion hashs, is one of these a solution to the question: what is password. You'd get a yes or no. If yes, you cut the array in half and keep cutting until you find it.

And I've been on record for some time saying that not being able to "know a quantum state" is not a law of the Universe but merely a practical matter due to the way we test the state is too powerful and disruptive, it's like testing for cows by firing cannon balls at them -- the cow state is either known to have been in a location, but the cow is no longer in a "cow like state" after it has been hit by a large cannon ball. They've over-mystified the physics of tiny things IMHOP.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Warbothong (905464) | about 8 months ago | (#46142247)

Obviously, you don't have a use for a quantum computer if you can't find a way to determine if it's a quantum computer. If it's just speed, what you want is a super-computer. If it's the ability to perform certain calculations, they simply don't work on a classical computer (or take eternity, even for a super-computer).

Not quite, since one of the best 'definitely quantum' results we have so far is that 15 = 3 * 5, which is trivially found on a classical machine.

I would say instead, that if getting a correct result doesn't determine whether it's quantum or not, then it's not quantum in any 'meaningful' way (in the sense that the transistors in my laptop's CPU aren't quantum in a 'meaningful' way).

Re:Who cares? (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 8 months ago | (#46142439)

That is the point though. Why do you need a quantum computer? What business case does this solve? What engineering problem? If the answer is "it's like 10% faster than using a regular computer," you don't need a quantum computer. If the answer is "we can't physically solve this problem on a regular computer--you must brute force through every possible answer and validate, which takes longer than the universe will continue to exist,", then you need a quantum computer. If the answer is "we can do this, but it's exponentially slower as the problem gets bigger; it's linear or polynomial on a quantum computer", you need a quantum computer for sufficiently large individual problems (if you have many small problems, you only need to scale linearly).

If you don't know if you have a quantum computer, then obviously a quantum computer isn't that important. I mean if your problem isn't solved remarkably easier with a given tool, YOU DON'T NEED THAT TOOL! If it IS solved remarkably easier with that tool, then YOU DEFINITELY KNOW IF WHAT YOU'RE HOLDING IS THE CORRECT TOOL!

Schrodinger's Quantum Computer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141155)

Both quantum and classical simultaneously?

captcha:conflict

Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141167)

Do we really think that D-Wave Systems would take that risk? They have to know that just about every major university and tech company will try to prove them wrong. Not to mention that Google will probably spend more to verify this purchase than they made on the purchase itself.

I don't know D-Wave Systems from Adam, but is this a risk they would take?

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (2)

Salgat (1098063) | about 8 months ago | (#46141207)

A better question is if they don't mind the risk if they already got their money.

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | about 8 months ago | (#46141227)

(1) For fifteen million dollars, I could find a lot of people willing to take that risk. (2) Even people who would not decide to take the risk normally would take the risk under certain circumstances. Including things as simple as "I need to tell the investors something to cover up the fact that I couldn't do X."

I'm not saying they HAVE taken the risk--or even that they would. I'm just saying that that's not a reliable question to guide you on whether someone did something except in exceptionally rare circumstances. (E.g. the primary way we know there's no 9/11 conspiracy is that if they were caught, everyone involved would be lined up against the wall and shot.)

Re: Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141383)

Umm... that's what happened to Osama...

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (4, Insightful)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 8 months ago | (#46141259)

Even better, at least one group of smart people was fooled, and it took a group from UC Berkeley and IBM's Watson Research Lab to show a plausible classical algo. If it is fraud, it is well executed. That makes me believe they actually do have a crappy quantum computer, or believe they do.

And, with an actual product, people are hammering on it in ways that will prompt quant research into being able to prove or disprove how it works. Fraud or not, its a boon to everyone who didn't pay for it directly.

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (1)

mythix (2589549) | about 8 months ago | (#46141273)

I think you missed the part where they said "you can't measure it". By the time anybody finds out it's a hoax, they'll be long gone.

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (4, Interesting)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46141353)

Chances are, they don't know themselves exactly how "quantum" the system is. It's unlikely to be an outright fraud --- there's something other than a Core 2 Duo on the inside faking quantum results --- but a system working on the hairy edge of current technical understanding. They've built something that has a bunch of cryogenic doodads and performs annealing, but the technical understanding isn't all there. That said, they have demonstrated signs of acting in bad faith --- being very cagey about offering real details, and performing poorly-done comparisons against sub-optimal classical systems. So, they know that even they don't know whether the system they have lives up to claims, and are acting like a for-profit corporation rather than researchers with integrity about it.

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141733)

Just FYI, D-Wave is located http://goo.gl/maps/E9ka4 , it used to be at http://goo.gl/maps/5dKSD , it's an actual business that's been around since 1999. It's not, and has never been a front to sell snake-oil hardware. It's actually used to be located in the same business park area that used to have eBay Canada and McDonalds Canada HQ's. It's now located a block away from BCIT.

That said, quantum computers have a limited practical use. When developers can't even figure out how to use 2 cores on a conventional classic computer, don't expect developers of a quantum computer to figure out how to take advantage of the quantum properties. At this point in time it's still unlikely a true quantum computer could ever be made as the materials required simply do not exist in a way that would be easy and cost effective to use. The D-wave Quantum computer is a Adiabatic Quantum computer and doesn't pretend to be anything else. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adiabatic_quantum_computation

It's like anything else in a classic computer. You can throw programs specifically designed for it's hardware for it to get a speed advantage, or you can throw experimental code at it that "would work on a classic computer" and not get any advantage when run on the quantum computer. Many applications and even "web apps" still do not make use of more than one CPU core, and this is a limitation either imposed by the web browser (All browsers suck at threading) or the Operating system (Windows doesn't do multithreaded drawing in DirectX9 (a major bottle neck,) which is what the majority of software is still written to.) Trying to run general purpose CPU code on a GPU is inefficent, and from what I'm hearing this is similar to what is happening here. The researchers have tried to do Quantum Annealing with conventional hardware and are seeing little improvement with the D-wave hardware. They haven't said how much conventional hardware is required to do it, or what exactly was required. Were 512 CPU cores required?

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 8 months ago | (#46141915)

What risk?

And would enron execs really take the risk of running dirty books?

besides, the one person who "knows" how D-Waves machine works might not be making any money if he didn't know "how it works" - same goes for a lot of the scientists they employ who can wash their hands anyways.

the point is still this: why pay 15 million for a quantum sticker on a machine that may or may not be a quantum computer? you know it seems to me only a quantum scientist would come up with a scam like that.... and then claim that you can't take a look at how it works without breaking it just to drive the point through.

but I ask again: what risk? risk of not having already been paid? if its not a quantum computer(and they already know that its a solver for "something" not a computer) then they don't have any risk selling it.. the risk would be not taking tens of millions for it from whoever is stupid enough to pay for it(NASA, NSA, whoever has budget). if it sort of does what it does they can't even be sued - it doesn't matter if it's worse at calculating the result than a laptop as long as they can claim they didn't deliberately fraud anyone( as long as they can claim they didn't exactly know what it did - that's maybe why D-Wave hasn't publicly said exactly wtf it is that they're selling).

Re:Would D-Wave Take That Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142633)

IMHO the bigger question is why these organizations would buy a computer they don't understand. If NASA (or even Google, for that matter) buys a computer, there shouldn't be any question as to exactly how it works. That's especially true if they paid over $200 for it, much less several million. If NASA is buying computers they don't understand, it makes me wonder if they're also spending public money on dowsing rods, chakra detecting-pendulums, crystal-power pyramids and vampire-deterring crucifixes. Shit, I want a piece of this action; I can make that stuff cheap.

But 3D printers and private space colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141179)

are still the future, right? Right?

Don't forget there's another out there. (1)

Forbo (3035827) | about 8 months ago | (#46141183)

Lockheed Martin also has a D-Wave system, so let's not forget that's already churning away for some three letter agency somewhere.

Re:Don't forget there's another out there. (3)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 8 months ago | (#46141449)

WARN: THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM...


stupid caps filter, it's supposed to be all in caps

Re:Don't forget there's another out there. (1)

Forbo (3035827) | about 8 months ago | (#46141747)

For anyone who (like me) didn't understand the reference: Colossus [wikipedia.org]

Thank you for that, it was an interesting read and quite pertinent to the subject matter. Someone throw some mod points at that person!

Google uncertainty (2)

Drewdad (1738014) | about 8 months ago | (#46141211)

Google may or may not want to acquire D-Wave Systems....

Sounds like religion to me (0, Flamebait)

erroneus (253617) | about 8 months ago | (#46141225)

If Google and NASA cannot watch the device being created, then they have to take it on faith. It is "untestable." Any attempt to test it destroys it. There are explanations favoring the quantum and explanations favoring the conventional.

I find the parallels striking what with all the money spent and all the faith required?

Re:Sounds like religion to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141549)

Seems to me that if that's really true, that testing it would destroy the quantum computer, perhaps that's what they need to do. If they test it and the results are the same, that would presumably be a very bad sign that the computer was making use of any quantum effects that require uncertainty.

Re:Sounds like religion to me (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 8 months ago | (#46142307)

Yes, it's like testing a witch.

Re:Sounds like religion to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142763)

Yes, it's like testing a witch.

Does the D-Wave float?

Well ... (5, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#46141229)

Maybe it simultaneously both is and isn't a Quantum computer? :-P

Re:Well ... (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 8 months ago | (#46141401)

Maybe it simultaneously both is and isn't a Quantum computer? :-P

Here kitty kitty!

Woof!

What does it even matter? (1)

mythix (2589549) | about 8 months ago | (#46141241)

I doesn't do such a great job at "quantum computing" if the output is so close to that of a classical computer that nobody can tell which of the 2 it is?

So why does anybody care? if it were a quantum computer, it's obviously a really really crappy one, or it would've done some amazing stuff already...

Re:What does it even matter? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#46141525)

if it were a quantum computer, it's obviously a really really crappy one, or it would've done some amazing stuff already...

Or, like many new technologies, maybe we're using it wrong.

Maybe they just need to remodulate the phase inducers and polarize the deflector dish. :-P

Re:What does it even matter? (1)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 8 months ago | (#46142065)

It absolutely should not matter how the thing works - quantum, digital, analog, or other.

Does it perform the required calculations with the expected accuracy at a rate documented by the specifications?

You fools! (2, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | about 8 months ago | (#46141323)

You changed the outcome by measuring it!

Unlimited power (4, Funny)

Dan East (318230) | about 8 months ago | (#46141369)

I have a device for sale which generates free, unlimited power. The catch is that you cannot measure the power output or it won't function. If you put any load on the device you are directly or indirectly measuring the power, and thus it won't work. So just know up front that stipulation and use the device accordingly.

Re:Unlimited power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141609)

I have a competitor to your device. Unlike yours, it can take a useful load. However, you have to put a number of AA batteries in it as a catalyst. Note that these batteries aren't used to power the load -- that's done by the device itself -- but unfortunately, due to limitations of the first-generation technology, the catalytic process damages the batteries so that they won't produce a voltage afterwards. Also, over time, the batteries will become "poisoned", so if you want to run the load for a long time, you will have to replace the catalyst.

This device could be yours for just $15M plus tax and S&H. All I need is your check and your signature on a "covenant not to sue". But don't worry, that's all boilerplate stuff, trust me.

Re:Unlimited power (2)

multimediavt (965608) | about 8 months ago | (#46141645)

I have a device for sale which generates free, unlimited power. The catch is that you cannot measure the power output or it won't function. If you put any load on the device you are directly or indirectly measuring the power, and thus it won't work. So just know up front that stipulation and use the device accordingly.

False equivalence police are coming for you. Quantum computers do produce output that theoretically can be tested and validated. Your imaginary power device, by your own definition does not accept load so does not produce output. Not a similar device. It would have been better to compare it to the computer in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that came up with '42' as the answer to the ultimate question. Since you can't (as in, no present ability to) validate the answer how do you know the computer actually executed the algorithm correctly with the input data? It's a head scratcher and why quantum computing is going to take a while longer to take off. There are some intractable problems for classical computing, but most are not of known great consequence to humanity compared to the work that can still be done on ever advancing classical hardware. Sure, something, maybe quantum computing, will supplant the current tech, but classical computing methods still have a lot of usefulness left in them. Certainly enough to carry them well past quantum computing coming of age.

Re:Unlimited power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141819)

The GP's analogy is close enough...the comparison is that a novel thing that can only perform equivalent to a standard thing might as well be a standard thing for all intents and purposes.

Re:Unlimited power (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141667)

I have a device for sale which generates free, unlimited power. The catch is that you cannot measure the power output or it won't function. If you put any load on the device you are directly or indirectly measuring the power, and thus it won't work. So just know up front that stipulation and use the device accordingly.

No, it's more like: "I have a device, and it generates power. It costs less than what I pay the utility company. The guys that sold it to me say that it's cold fusion, but nobody's really convinced." Now everyone's interested if it's really cold fusion, but even if it's not, if I buy the thing, all I care is whether it's worth it for me compared to the alternatives, and I don't give a damn what you call it.

Re:Unlimited power (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46142679)

No, it's more like "I have a device, and it generates power. It costs less than what I pay the utility company*."
*: when I paid the utility company $14/kWh, which I specially arranged for a week.

D-Wave keeps claiming their system is faster/more-cost-effective --- then, a few months later, independent researchers show it's not when compared against well-designed classical approaches (rather than poorly-designed or not-apples-to-apples classical algorithms). So far, they have not managed to demonstrate a definitive advantage which holds up to scrutiny.

And with that... (1)

thevirtualcat (1071504) | about 8 months ago | (#46141375)

... Google promptly returned the thousand of D-Wave devices they bought in attempt to bolster their failing conventional infrastructure. A Google representitive stated that they are looking into legal proceedings, but wouldn't comment further. A Google employee who asked to remain anonymous was quoted as saying, "What can I say? We fell for their shtick hook, line and sinker. Now we're left to pick up the pieces after the biggest technology blunder in our company's history!"

Oh, wait. That didn't happen. What actually happened is that they found some extra money between the couch cushions and bought a shiny toy to play with. I bet it won't be the last time, either.

Re:And with that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141649)

But just think, if they had saved up all that money, for just 600 times the cost of this quantum computer, they could have bought Autonomy Corporation.

not a big news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141381)

as far as I know, there always was a lot of skepticism about D-wave being quantum computer.
so this is probably not very surprising for lots of people...

power source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141407)

I wonder how many cats you need to feed this thing every day..

You know what you have to do, Google... (1)

Joshua Fan (1733100) | about 8 months ago | (#46141413)

No conventional computer can replicate a quantum computer's processes. The only way to check your quantum computer's results... is to buy another one.

DUH! (1)

David Betz (2845597) | about 8 months ago | (#46141441)

The original Slashdot post for the D-Wave announcement had an excellent comment: quantum annealing is NOT quantum computing, it's snake oil!

Does it matter? (1)

countach44 (790998) | about 8 months ago | (#46141475)

I realize the desire to tout the fact that you use a quantum computer and that if D-wave is selling a "quantum computer," they should deliver something that performs quantum computations. However, if it does what it's supposed better than other classical computers, then the money is not a waste. Unless the spending was just for show, then too bad.

simple solution? (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 8 months ago | (#46141499)

what if you just look at the chip contents under a microscope? i figure if you put that much money into the company that you should be able to inspect the resulting chip. seems like it would be a simple to determine if it's just a plain ol' IC or not.

Re:simple solution? (2)

nashv (1479253) | about 8 months ago | (#46142047)

Erm. The architecture of the D-wave core chip is sufficiently well known. [wordpress.com] . What is not know is if quantum effects are playing a role in the functioning. It is designed to encourage and at least allow quantum effects based on the Ising model [wikipedia.org] . The question is of course, does the quantum magic actually occur?, and if it does, does it help?.

Or was that IC thing supposed to be funny?

Re:simple solution? (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46142419)

Too bad that D-Wave blog post you linked to is full of outright fabrications/distortions. The machine they have is an annealer, not a "fast NP-complete problem solver." It does not solve NP-complete problems. An NP-complete problem is, e.g., finding the best solution to a "traveling salesman" problem --- this computer doesn't do that. Finding a probably-good-but-not-the-single-best solution to a "travelling salesman" problem is not an NP-complete problem; there are polynomial-time classical algorithms that can "almost" solve these problems (annealing) already. So, if you're trying to prove that the architecture of the D-Wave chip has been transparently disclosed to the public, it doesn't help to link to a PR fluff piece full of intentional distortions.

Re:simple solution? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 8 months ago | (#46142069)

The same thing occurred to me. The thing is, DWave's chip definitely doesn't have a bunch of transistors on it executing a conventional program. It's more like a little physical simulation on a chip. The question is whether that particular setup behaves classically or not.

Holy fuck, Jim (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141599)

How the fuck does one create a computer and then cannot even prove how the fucking thing works? What the fuck!

From a business perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141647)

It doesn't matter if the D-wave machine is a quantum computer.
    It matters if it can solve a useful problem better than anything else.

As far as I know, it can't.
There is only the hope that a bigger one might be able to later.
(Because is it a quantum computer which scales O(1) instead of O(2**N))

Oh, that's why it matters.

Re:From a business perspective (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 8 months ago | (#46142845)

You are wrong on the scalability. Like conventional computers are limited by interconnect and power, a QC is limited by entanglement, creation of initial state and measurement. They scale pretty much the same, but the constants for the QC are a lot worse.

Lottery machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46141725)

If you cannot provide a clear, watertight proof that the device actually computes stuff then you should not bother calling it a computer. D-wave is just one very expensive lottery machine. Sure it does _something_ and very _specific_ but no, it is not a quantum c-o-m-p-u-t-e-r. Having dozens of researchers and their students tinkering with the details of this little number spouting thingy is just plain regrettable.

The ignoramuswho wrote the headline of the summary (1)

nashv (1479253) | about 8 months ago | (#46141933)

should consider him/herself informed that models fitting data are do not constitute evidence of anything.

Especially when two supposedly incompatible (debatable) models fit the data, it just means that you don't have a clue about what is really going on. A polynomial equation of sufficient order will fit an elephant. It does not mean you have explained what an elephant is. It is not evidence of the non-parabolic-ness of an elephant.

Re:The ignoramuswho wrote the headline of the summ (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 8 months ago | (#46142819)

The title is completely valid with regard to the strength of the computing model. The issue is that this "computing device" is basically useless for one more thing that was its core claim to being useful.

the only obvious solution (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 8 months ago | (#46142555)

There's no point in testing it now or trying to form an opinion at the risk of being wrong. D-Wave claims that really soon they'll have a quibit count (or whatever) high enough to break rather difficult encryption instantly as opposed to hours/months/centuries. If it spits out an answer, THEN it will be incontrovertible proof. Until then, it's not wise to say they're faking it or not faking it. I somehow doubt that they hired a mathematician to invent whatever algorithm it took the rest of the world a while to invent after the fact just to fake one possible result set.

Re:the only obvious solution (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 8 months ago | (#46142795)

They cannot do that. Factoring requires far too many entangled qbits. They are not going to get there with their technology, ever. And for symmetric encryption, they just halve the bits. That is not going to help with 256 bit ciphers, they are still completely secure even with a (very, very unlikely) working quantum computer.

No, like any good scammer, they see they can profit from this a bit longer.

Snake Oil (1)

Chad Smith (3448823) | about 8 months ago | (#46142573)

Beware scam phone calls from Quantum PC support

NASA $15M QC No Better Than 30 Yr Old HP Calc (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142583)

My 30 year old Hewlett Packard 32S RPN Scientific is far more reliable than any $15M "Quantum Computer."

And mine is completely portable! HA!

NASA is well known for throwing away Butt Loads of $$$$ on "Gold-plated Toilet Seats" that don't work!

Bet the NASA Deputy Dir. has a gold-plated electric dildo.

Ha ha

Occam's razor (1)

pla (258480) | about 8 months ago | (#46142617)

Now a group from UC Berkeley and IBM's Watson Research Lab says it has a found a classical algorithm that explains the results just as well, or even better, than quantum annealing.

So we have two possibilities here:

1) D-Wave has built a device that at least theoretically can exist, which works more-or-less as advertised, or
2) D-Wave came up with a previously unknown solution to a class of computationally difficult problems, and would rather fleece a handful of investors than simply profit legitimately from their discovery.

Perhaps most importantly, the discovery of this new algorithm (which D-Wave's offerings predate) that "looks" like quantum performance on a specific task doesn't prove the D-Wave doing it one way or another. It just means we need a better test for quantum computing.

TFA's assertion of difficulty aside, I don't really get the problem with proving a quantum computer: "On a quantum computer, to factor an integer N, Shor's algorithm runs in polynomial time (the time taken is polynomial in log N, which is the size of the input).[1] Specifically it takes time O((log N)3), demonstrating that the integer factorization problem can be efficiently solved on a quantum computer and is thus in the complexity class BQP. This is substantially faster than the most efficient known classical factoring algorithm, the general number field sieve, which works in sub-exponential time â" about O(e1.9 (log N)1/3 (log log N)2/3) [wikipedia.org] ".

So this seems like a no-brainer - Does integer factorization scale in polynomial or subexponential time on a D-Wave?

Re:Occam's razor (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 8 months ago | (#46142765)

You miss the point. This discovery proves that this expensive box is useless, no matter what mechanism it uses...

Re:Occam's razor (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about 8 months ago | (#46142799)

The simple answer to your question, which is admitted by D-Wave when pressed (though not made obvious in their PR literature) is no, D-Wave cannot run Shor's algorithm. The D-Wave is definitely not a full quantum computer in the most general sense; at best, it can carry out a very limited subset of what a general-purpose quantum computer can do ("quantum annealing" problems). At worst (and nothing better has been conclusively demonstrated), it can't do anything you can't do with cheaper fully-classical hardware (using classical simulated annealing algorithms).

No surprise at all (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 8 months ago | (#46142749)

That this thing is not a quantum computer in any meaningful way was clear from the beginning. But some people want to believe, no matter what. Sometimes that gets expensive...

Check me on my understanding of quantum computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46142759)

I don’t have time to dig past the summery. But I’ll toss a question out anyway and see if there is a short answer.

In QM all the information about a particle or group of particles is contained in their wave function. Sometimes the wave function predicts a single possible outcome measuring an observable in classical physics and sometimes it does not. When it does not, one can calculate a probability distribution describing the chances of a particular outcome of an experiment.

I am under the impression that at least some known algorithms for quantum computers produce an output where the qbits are in a state such that the desired output has a good chance be being the one observed when the qbits are measured, but the desired output is not the only possible one.

As such, it is expected that running the algorithm repeatedly on a correctly functioning quantum computer will produce incorrect answers at random but with a known probability of error. It seems like one could test if a system is really quantum by running one of these algorithms and seeing if the ratio of correct to incorrect output matched predictions.

Then again, I could be wrong in my understanding of what is supposed to happen with quantum computers.

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