SOC Design

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quantum Conundrum

Last week, I attended the debut of what may become the first commercial quantum computer. Or not. The EDN article I wrote about this demonstration is here:

D-Wave, the company that has been developing this quantum hardware for eight years, used the Computer History Museum for it's introduction venue. However, the computer itself was located in Burnaby, British Columbia and was operated via the Internet. So we have to take D-Wave's word that we were watching an actual quantum computer solve problems. That's not to say I disbelieve D-Wave, only that I cannot say with 100% confidence that I indeed saw a quantum computer in action.

Other press outlets have published quotes that scientists are "dubious" about D-Wave's claims. I think that's the wrong word. D-Wave hasn't been forthcoming about key technical details (but says they will be in the future) so I'd say that the community is presently "unconvinced." We'd like more information before passing judgement. In the meanwhile, I consider quantum computing to be "spooky information processing at a distance," to paraphrase Einstein.

D-Wave's Orion, the name of their proof-of-concept machine, solve's NP-complete problems. These are the sort of problems that require a full solution search in conventional computers, which is a very slow process for problems with large solution sets. As it is today, Orion is about 100x slower than today's computers because it's only a 16-qubit (quantum bit) machine. By the end of 2008, D-Wave believes it can have a 1024-qubit machine running that would be 10x faster than conventional binary computers at solving NP-complete problems.