The new system, called the D-Wave One, is not significantly more capable than a conventional computer. But it could be a step on the road to fuller implementations of quantum computing, which theoreticians have shown could easily solve problems that are impossible for other computers, such as defeating encryption systems by solving mathematical problems at incredible speed.
In a throwback to the days when computers were the size of rooms, the system bought by Lockheed, called the D-Wave One, occupies 100 square feet. Rather than acting as a stand-alone computer, it operates as a specialized helper to a conventional computer running software that learns from past data and makes predictions about future events. The defense company says it intends to use the new purchase to aid identification of bugs in products that are complex combinations of software and hardware. The goal is to reduce cost overruns caused by unforeseen technical problems with such systems, Lockheed spokesperson Thad Madden says. Such challenges were partly behind the recent news that the company's F-35 strike fighter is more than 20 percent over budget
D-Wave One has a 128 qubit processor.
* the qubits are ade from metal loops rich in niobium
The qubits are linked by structures called couplers, also made from superconducting niobium alloy, which can control the extent to which adjacent magnetic fields, representing qubits, affect one another. Performing a calculation involves using magnetic fields to set the states of qubits and couplers, waiting a short time, and then reading out the final values from the qubits.
D-Wave's machine is intended to do one thing better than a conventional computer: finding approximate answers to problems that can only be truly solved by exhaustively trying every possible solution. D-Wave runs a single algorithm, dubbed quantum annealing, which is hard-wired into the machine's physical design, says Geordie Rose, D-Wave's founder and CTO. Data sent to the chip is translated into qubit values and settings for the couplers that connect them. After that, the interlinked qubits go through a series of quantum mechanical changes the result in the solution emerging. "You stuff the problem into the hardware and it acts as a physical proxy for what you're trying to solve," says Rose. "All physical systems want to sink to the lowest energy level, with the most entropy," he explains, "and ours sinks to a state that represents the solution."
"You send in your problem and then get back a much more accurate result than you would on a conventional computer," says Rose. He says tests have shown software using the D-Wave system can learn things like how to recognize particular objects in photos up to 9 percent more accurately than a conventional alternative. Rose predicts that the gap will rapidly widen as programmers learn to optimize their code for the way D-Wave's technology behaves.
Google has been experimenting with D-Wave's technology for several years as a way to speed up software that can interpret photos. The company's software engineers use it as a kind of cloud service, accessing a system at D-Wave's Vancouver headquarters over the Internet.
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