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January 23, 2014

D-Wave Aims to Beat Any Classical Computer

Tiffany Trader
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For those of you following the D-Wave story, the designers of “the world’s first commercial quantum computer” have published a revealing blog entry detailing the company’s latest achievements.

When Canadian startup D-Wave announced back in 2007 that it had developed a prototype quantum computing machine suitable for running commercial applications, the technical community paid attention, yet many were skeptical of the claim. Much of the debate has centered on the semantics of the term “quantum computing” and exactly what that means, but the folks at D-Wave were not easily discouraged. Within a few years, they had sold systems to Lockheed Martin and a NASA-Google collaboration.

In May 2013, the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, shared by NASA, Google, and Universities Space Research Association (USRA), took delivery of the D-Wave Two Computer backed by the 509-qubit Vesuvius 6 (V6) processor. Since the system went online, it has operated around-the-clock at nearly 100 percent usage – with the majority of time being spent on benchmarking.

According to a recent blog post from D-Wave founder and chief technology officer Geordie Rose, six “interesting findings” have arisen as a result of this extensive benchmarking period.

Rose notes that while some of these results have been published, he wants to provide his own take on what it all means.

The six findings are as follows:

  • Interesting finding #1: V6 is the first superconducting processor competitive with state of the art semiconducting processors.
  • Interesting finding #2: V6 is the first computing system using ideas from quantum information science competitive with the best classical computing systems.
  • Interesting finding #3: The problem type chosen for the benchmarking was wrong.
  • Interesting finding #4: Google seems to love their machine.
  • Interesting finding #5: The system has been running 24/7 with not even a second of downtime for about six months.
  • Interesting finding #6: The technology has come a long way in a short period of time.

Rose provides further thoughts on each of these, but #1 and #4 are especially telling.

With regard to the first point, Rose states that a recently published paper “shows that V6 is competitive with what’s arguably the most highly optimized semiconductor based solution possible today, even on a problem type that in hindsight was a bad choice. A fact that has not gotten as much coverage as it probably should is that V6 beats this competitor both in wallclock time and scaling for certain problem types.”

Finding four is backed by a blog post that the Google team published last week.

“In an early test we dialed up random instances and pitted the machine against popular off-the-shelf solvers — Tabu Search, Akmaxsat and CPLEX. At 509 qubits, the machine is about 35,500 times (!) faster than the best of these solvers,” writes the Google team.

There was earlier discussion of a 3,600-fold speedup, but the Google rep explains that was on an older chip with only 439 qubits.

“This is an important result,” Rose adds. “Beating a trillion dollars worth of investment with only the second generation of an entirely new computing paradigm by 35,500 times is a pretty damn awesome achievement.”

As for the final point – the fast pace of the D-Wave technology – the CTO notes that all of these advances have been completed in the last year. In closing, he says “the discussion is now about whether we can beat any possible computer – even though it’s really only the second generation of an entirely new computing paradigm, built on a shoestring budget.” Rose expects that within the next few generations, the D-Wave processor will do just that.

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