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March 22, 2013

Quantum Computing Nears Commercial Adoption

Ryan Hill

Don’t panic. Quantum computing, that strange beast that appears to defy logic, is set to debut on a commercial scale, thanks to Lockheed Martin and D-Wave Systems.

Because of the unusual properties of particles at very small scale, quantum computing is like traditional computing on steroids. Why is quantum computing the hare to traditional computing’s tortoise? Quantum computing relies on subatomic particles that inhabit a different range of states, which can be used to find the best outcome, allowing certain types of problems to be solved faster than ever before.

Lockheed Martin plans to use the quantum computing system it bought from D-Wave two years ago for the manufacturing of radar, space and aircraft systems. The system works by chilling the processor to almost an absolute zero, then a set of mathematical equations is programmed into the lattice of superconducting wires. The processor sorts out the equations until it finds the lowest energy required, which is known as the optimal outcome. This allows for Lockheed to test a myriad of scenarios on the systems in mere moments, instead of weeks.

“This is a revolution not unlike the early days of computing,” Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s chief technical officer, said in an interview with the New York Times. “It is a transformation in the way computers are thought about.”

Quantum computing is being employed for other industries besides aerospace. The healthcare industry is using it to research genetic data, and hopes for the field are so high that D-Wave has secured investments from Goldman Sachs and even Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.

Though that’s not to say the field isn’t without its critics.

Some D-Wave skeptics say the company hasn’t offered adequate proof of its claims. Some of the criticism developed when D-Wave failed to deliver on its 2007 promise to produce a commercial quantum computer by 2008. And D-Wave’s scientists have yet to publish data proving that the system computes faster than standard binary computers.

“There’s no reason quantum computing shouldn’t be possible, but people talked about heavier-than-air flight for a long time before the Wright brothers solved the problem,” said Scott Aaronson, a professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. D-Wave, he said, “has said things in the past that were just ridiculous, things that give you very little confidence.”

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, the possibilities of quantum computing can reach all the way to infinity…and beyond.

Full story at The New York Times

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