Quantum rewrites the rules of computing

NASA, Google testing D-Wave machine while debate rages over whether it's really quantum computing

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"We're a long ways away," he told Computerworld. "It won't happen in my lifetime and I don't intend to die tomorrow."

Benioff says it could be 20 to 50 years before anyone is able to get a lot of qubits to work together.

"It's not hard to build [a qubit], but how do you build a whole lot of them and have one over here interact with one way over there?" he asked. "There are a lot of questions out there about whether they are full quantum computers. It could be a step there or it's an offshoot of the right way to go."

Iannacchione agrees that D-Wave's system is likely a step toward building a real quantum computer.

"They haven't demonstrated the ability to do these huge calculations," he said. "There's no clear evidence that what D-Wave is doing is faster than what a classical computer can do. If they really are creating a quantum computer, it should be hugely faster even if we don't understand what is going on under the hood."

That is what is making many people, in both physics and computer science, skeptical about D-Wave's machine. This is so new and out-of-the-box, that they're not even sure if a true quantum computer has been built.

And having a quantum computer won't be as easy as adding more racks to a company's data center.

A quantum computer has to be completely isolated from everything from radiation to light, heat and even vibrations. It also has to operate at 458 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

"It's the world's most delicate soufflé," said Iannacchione.

If it's difficult to find software to take advantage of computers running multi-core chips, finding software to run on a quantum machine would be a much bigger issue.

Despite the doubts and difficulties associated with quantum computing, Brownell maintains that D-Wave is the first to build a commercial quantum computer that can do large, useful calculations.

"The most complex thing ever done by a quantum computer before ours was factoring the number 21 in a laboratory," he said. "This is one of the most important things to happen in computer science in the last 50 years. This becomes a whole new branch of computer science."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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