Google, NASA using quantum computing to push A.I., machine learning

Sign 7-year deal with quantum computer maker D-Wave

d wave 512qubit processor

A 512-qubit processor used in D-Wave's quantum computers.

Credit: D-Wave Systems Inc.

Google and NASA are continuing to test quantum computers and this week entered into a new agreement to work with a series of updated systems.

D-Wave Systems, a quantum computing company based in Burnaby, British Columbia, announced this week that it had signed a deal to install a succession of D-Wave systems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. NASA and Google on Wednesday also confirmed the deal.

NASA and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) are collaborating on the project, which is focused on advancing artificial intelligence and machine learning.

As new D-Wave quantum machines are developed, they will be successively installed at Ames for as long as the next seven years, according to the company.

In 2013, when Google announced the launch of its Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, the company said it would use quantum computing to solve some of the most challenging computer science problems, particularly in the area of machine learning.

“If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop,” wrote Hartmut Neven, Google’s director of engineering, at the time. “If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what’s happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what’s on the web so you get the best answer.”

For the past two years, scientists at Google, NASA and the USRA have been working with a 500-qubit D-Wave Two system, which also has been installed at Ames.

“Through research at NASA Ames, we hope to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve our ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration,” said Eugene Tu, director at the Ames Research Center, in a statement. “The availability of increasingly more powerful quantum systems are key to achieving these goals, and work is now underway with D-Wave’s latest technology.”

There has been a lot of excitement around the concept of quantum computing. Computer scientists and physicists generally believe that a quantum machine could far exceed the top classic supercomputers in highly complex calculations. Quantum computers, for instance, could work on problems involving searches of large data sets or on performing massive calculations.

The difference lies in how the two different kinds of machines function. Classic computers use bits -- ones and zeroes – to work through a calculation in an orderly, linear fashion. A quantum computer uses what are known as qubits, which, instead of being a one or a zero, can be both a one and a zero, allowing for a wide range of possibilities.

Because of these possibilities, a quantum machine is able to process all the options in a calculation at once, making it much faster than a classic computer.

Some scientists are skeptical that D-Wave, or any company, has developed a working quantum computer. Some in the field it could be 50 years before an actual quantum machine is developed.

D-Wave CEO Vern Brownell obviously disagrees and says his company is working on successive generations of quantum computers.

“The new agreement [with NASA and Google] is the largest order in D-Wave’s history, and indicative of the importance of quantum computing in its evolution toward solving problems that are difficult for even the largest supercomputers,” Brownell, said in a statement this week. “We highly value the commitment that our partners have made to D-Wave and our technology, and are excited about the potential use of our systems for machine learning and complex optimization problems.”

The march toward exascale computers
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