Quantum Computing – Are We There Yet? (Yes and No)

Canadian company D-Wave claims to have the world’s first “commercial” quantum computer.  They recently announced that their newest model, the D-Wave Two, will be used by a collaborative research effort between NASA, Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).  (Press release)

The basic theory of quantum computing is that, unlike classical computing where a bit of information is either 0 or 1, a qubit representing the quantum state of an atomic particle can exist in both states or any state in between at the same time.  Theoretically this will allow quantum computers to solve complex algorithms in a fraction of the time by being able to compute each possible result in parallel.

I’m no quantum physicist.  But as I understand it, the basic problem of any quantum effect is that the very act of “peeking” at the quantum state of the qubit can alter its state and has a single result at the moment you do.  In other words, the moment you observe it it will be found in one of the possible states.  The old Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment is one way of looking at it.

Since D-Wave’s tech is proprietary and thus not completely open for review, a number of experts are skeptical that it represents true quantum computing.  Another issue is that the technology is still highly limited in what it can do and is not remotely cost-effective in comparison with modern classical computers. 

Still, the potential applications in cryptography, physics, genetics and other fields that involve trying many different combinations to find a result have scientists — and apparently Google — very interested in exploring the possibilities.

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