Google is revealing a little bit more about its ambitious quantum-computing project, which researchers hope will allow them to tackle some epic projects such as building a more complete model of the universe.
“We believe quantum computing may help solve some of the most challenging computer science problems, particularly in machine learning,” Hartmut Neven, a Google director of engineering, wrote in a May 16 posting on Google’s official Research Blog. “Machine learning is all about building better models of the world to make more accurate predictions.”
That posting was the first big announcement for the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, which is hosted in NASA’s Ames Research Center and features as its centerpiece a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems. The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) has encouraged researchers to take that computer for a spin.
D-Wave Systems provides a relatively simple explanation of how a quantum processor works on its Website; the takeaway is that quantum computing can chew through problems much faster than “traditional” computing. “In the D-Wave processor, the qubits can slowly be tuned (annealed) from their superposition state (where they are 0 and 1 at the same time) into to a classical state (where they are either 0 or 1),” is how D-Wave explains it. “When this is done in the presence of the programmed memory elements on the processor, the 0 and 1 states that the qubits end up settling into gives the answer to a user-defined problem.”
Google has already developed some quantum machine-learning algorithms, and is studying how a mix of quantum and “traditional” computing can allow it to solve very big problems in creative ways—particularly insight into ultra-complex systems such as Earth’s weather or how galaxies collide. The Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab is the next step in that process, and Google’s decided to make the facility’s activities more prominent with a video (thanks, Verge) and a series of Google Plus postings.
What will quantum computing ultimately allow us to accomplish? Nobody’s quite sure. Maybe someone should ask that D-Wave computer about the Ultimate Question.