The Quantum Computing Revolution

Yesterday, I greatly enjoyed Obama’s visit to Israel.  In particular his appreciation of the entrepeneurship and start-up culture of this young country. In the President’s own words, “over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.  Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, and innovators who reached new frontiers – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space.”

Everyday, I am blown away but innovators across the globe pushing the envelope of physics, computing and mathematical theories.  The days of binary processors is waning giving wave to a new generations of quantum machines (see explanatory video).  Quantum Physics has been in academia for over 50 years, in the halls of MIT, Harvard and of course the Weizmann Institude of Science in Israel.  A revolution only begins when it hits the masses, and in our world that means industry.

In the NY Times today, it was reported that Lockheed Martin has been working with a Canadian company, D-Wave Systems, for the past two years to bring on a commercial the first business ready quantum computer.  Quantum computing is so much more powerful than traditional binary process as one enters the infinitesimal neighborhood of logic since numbers can mean more than one thing, you see one can be a one, or it can be a one and a zero and everything in between — all at the same time. WOW!

This means businesses and science will have supercharged computing systems capable of solving problems/equations millions of times faster than can be done today.  As Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s chief technical officer, explains ‘It could be possible, for example, to tell instantly how the millions of lines of software running a network of satellites would react to a solar burst or a pulse from a nuclear explosion — something that can now take weeks, if ever, to determine.’

“This is a revolution not unlike the early days of computing,” he said. “It is a transformation in the way computers are thought about.” Imagine the writer of the Times says, ‘cancer researchers see a potential to move rapidly through vast amounts of genetic data. The technology could also be used to determine the behavior of proteins in the human genome, a bigger and tougher problem than sequencing the genome.’ In fact, Google that has been working on an autonomous car has been using quantum computers to recognize other vehicles and landmarks to build the self-driving operating system.

According to the NY Times:  Quantum computing is so much faster than traditional computing because of the unusual properties of particles at the smallest level. Instead of the precision of ones and zeros that have been used to represent data since the earliest days of computers, quantum computing relies on the fact that subatomic particles inhabit a range of states. Different relationships among the particles may coexist, as well. Those probable states can be narrowed to determine an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities, which allows certain types of problems to be solved rapidly.

“What we’re doing is a parallel development to the kind of computing we’ve had for the past 70 years,” said Vern Brownell, D-Wave’s chief executive. Mr. Brownell, who joined D-Wave in 2009, was until 2000 the chief technical officer at Goldman Sachs. “In those days, we had 50,000 servers just doing simulations” to figure out trading strategies, he said. “I’m sure there is a lot more than that now, but we’ll be able to do that with one machine, for far less money.”

Microsoft is also working to with Quantum machines, according to Peter Lee, head of the research team, we “are taking a step out of the theoretical domain and into the applied…There is a sense among top researchers that we’re all in a race.” If Microsoft’s work pans out, he said, the millions of possible combinations of the proteins in a human gene could be worked out “fairly easily.”

NY TIMES: Quantum computing has been a goal of researchers for more than three decades, but it has proved remarkably difficult to achieve. The idea has been to exploit a property of matter in a quantum state known as superposition, which makes it possible for the basic elements of a quantum computer, known as qubits, to hold a vast array of values simultaneously. There are a variety of ways scientists create the conditions needed to achieve superposition as well as a second quantum state known as entanglement, which are both necessary for quantum computing. Researchers have suspended ions in magnetic fields, trapped photons or manipulated phosphorus atoms in silicon.

The D-Wave computer that Lockheed has bought uses a different mathematical approach than competing efforts. In the D-Wave system, a quantum computing processor, made from a lattice of tiny superconducting wires, is chilled close to absolute zero. It is then programmed by loading a set of mathematical equations into the lattice. The processor then moves through a near-infinity of possibilities to determine the lowest energy required to form those relationships. That state, seen as the optimal outcome, is the answer.

The approach, which is known as adiabatic quantum computing, has been shown to have promise in applications like calculating protein folding, and D-Wave’s designers said it could potentially be used to evaluate complicated financial strategies or vast logistics problems. However, the company’s scientists have not yet published scientific data showing that the system computes faster than today’s conventional binary computers. While similar subatomic properties are used by plants to turn sunlight into photosynthetic energy in a few million-billionths of a second, critics of D-Wave’s method say it is not quantum computing at all, but a form of standard thermal behavior.

We live now in a world of billionths of a second, when data can be collect, analyzed and compiled.  As an observer, I am blown away with the fascination of a child that has opened his/her eyes for the first time.

Blog note: In observance of Passover, we will be celebrating our freedom from machines (and bondage from Egypt), and will not post next week.  To those partaking in the Holiday, may your time with your family only be joyous! 

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