Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Google Announces Quantum Breakthrough… Is It Legit Though?

If you are a person that follows all things Google, you are probably aware of the search engine giant's recent announcement that it has successfully tested a D-Wave 2X quantum computing system the company acquired through a joint purchase with NASA several years back. The new supercomputer is ostensibly capable of solving problems as much as 100 million times faster than current, single core technology.

Before you get overly excited about the potential of a computer being able to complete tasks faster than you can think, there are a couple of things to consider. Firstly, the company behind the D-Wave 2X has been roundly criticised within the industry for overstating the capabilities of its technology. Secondly, some of the tests Google used to achieve its astounding results were theoretical tests only. That said, Google is very pleased with what it has accomplished thus far.

Google officials say that they tested a quantum annealing algorithm that performs more than 100 times faster than simulated annealing on a standard, single core CPU. Their tests focused on solving problems involving approximately 1000 binary variables, according to Google director of engineering Hartmut Neven. He said in an official statement that quantum annealing “is more than 108 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core.”

Quantum Versus Simulated Annealing

Annealing is a process of solving a complex problem by looking at a series of possible solutions in order to find the best and most efficient solution, regardless of the number of variables being considered. Quantum annealing utilises an advanced algorithm that is capable of looking at all of the possible solutions and applying them to each variable in the problem. Simulated annealing does much the same thing except that it may not have access to all the potential solutions due to resource limitations.

Not only did the Google tests confirm that the D-Wave 2X can solve standard problems 108 times faster than a single core processor utilising simulated annealing, but they also proved the supercomputer can solve advanced quantum problems more than 100 million times faster.

Practical Applications of the Technology

Now that Google has let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, the next obvious question is one of the kinds of which practical applications this technology could be used for? Nothing comes to mind immediately. For example, do we utilise quantum equations for providing everyday tasks such as cloud computing and virtualisation? No, we don't. There also does not seem to be a practical way to implement the D-Wave 2X to improve data communications over long-range networks. Even if computers could solve problems that quickly, our current network infrastructure could not support those kinds of speeds.

There is no doubt that Google and NASA will continue looking at ways to put the D-Wave 2X to good use. In the meantime, a group of lab junkies will certainly be having a good time testing the capabilities of quantum annealing within the supercomputer environment. They will eventually figure out how to use it practically.

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