Google Advances Towards Quantum Computing

  • New research results show that Google's quantum computer is really much faster than traditional computers.
  • Quantum computers produced by Canadian company D-Wave are used by Google and NASA.
  • It is a truly disruptive technology that could change how we do everything, says NASA.
  • For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up, says Google.
  • Google should consider buying D-Wave to beat its competitors and lead the upcoming quantum computing revolution.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is claiming that its researchers achieved an important proof of concept and demonstrated that their approach to quantum computing is sound and likely to produce operational results. New research results described in the prestigious MIT Technology Review show that Google's quantum computer is really much faster than traditional computers.

Recently Google and NASA signed an agreement with Canadian quantum computer maker D-Wave that will give them access to new quantum processors as they are developed for the next seven years. The deals builds on on an earlier hardware agreement from May 2013, when Google and NASA bought the first quantum computer from D-Wave.

Google believes quantum computers could make their artificial-intelligence software much more powerful and unlock scientific leaps in areas like materials science. NASA hopes quantum computers could help schedule rocket launches and simulate future missions and spacecraft. "It is a truly disruptive technology that could change how we do everything," said Deepak Biswas, director of exploration technology at the NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Quantum computers encode information in "qubits" that, instead of being in definite zero or one states like classical bits, can be in weird quantum superpositions of zero and one states, and process information in ways that have no equivalent in classical computing by exploiting subtle quantum phenomena.

Future quantum computers are expected to permit staying on Moore's Law - the exponential acceleration of computing performance first noticed by Intel founder Gordon Moore in 1965 - and tackling very complex problems such as calculating the properties of promising new materials, large-scale financial analysis, molecular simulations for more effective drug development, and Big Data analysis for homeland security applications, much faster than today's fastest supercomputers.

It's important to emphasize that "much faster" doesn't mean 20 percent faster, or twice as fast. The theoretical performance leap forward that quantum computers could achieve is nothing short of breathtaking - quantum computers could operate millions of times faster than conventional computers.

The Google researchers claim that they demonstrated the possibility of a quantum leap in high performance computing. They choose a suitable test problem related to real computational problems encountered in the design of advanced materials, and raced the D-Wave quantum computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles. The caveat is important - the D-Wave supercomputer is unlikely to achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up on real problems - but the potential for real speed-ups is amazing to say the least.

Of course, Google is not the only participant in the race to quantum computing. Other top tech companies consider quantum computers as a strategic technology and are investing in quantum supercomputing developments to stay on top of Moore’s Law.

Recently,Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) invested $50 million in a collaboration with Dutch research organizations to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. IBM (NYSE:IBM) dedicates part of its considerable internal research resources to quantum computing, and recently developed a new quantum computing chip. Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) founded the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center (QCC), which uses D-Wave quantum computers to solve challenges ranging from designing lifesaving new drugs to rapidly debugging millions of lines of software code. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been quietly building up its quantum computing expertise at its Station Q research lab in Santa Barbara and recently claimed that it could achieve an operational quantum computer by 2025. D-Wave could be heading for an IPO, Wall Street Journal reported in January, but it remains a prime target for acquisition by any of these top companies.

In fact, if Google is now persuaded that the D-Wave approach to quantum computing is sound, its best move to become the leader of the emerging quantum computing sector would be to buy D-Wave, and it seems plausible that negotiations could be ongoing.

Practical quantum computers could provide an important performance boost to Google’s machine-learning software. "We’ve already encountered problems in the course of our products impractical to solve with existing computers, and we have a lot of computers," said Google engineering VP John Giannandrea. Of course, he cautioned that "it may be several years before this research makes a difference to Google products." However, investors bullish on the mid-term prospects of quantum computers should consider betting on Google's stock, and watch out for a possible D-Wave IPO as well.

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