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Spotlight on quantum computers: Does D-Wave fit the bill?

Posted: 18 May 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:D-Wave  quantum computer  optimisation  Moore's Law 

Those working toward a universal quantum computer today are obsessed with error correction methods, using up to thousands of qubits just to ensure that the superposition of values in a quantum state (part zero and part one) is maintained accurately throughout all of its calculations. With the adiabatic method, Hilton claimed, you don't need error correction because the qubits naturally relax into their lowest energy state.

"Our qubits go from excited level to a relaxed level, they don't need error correction at this point," Hilton said. "But with gate-model of a universal quantum computer you need error correction to get anything to work at all."

Companies are investing

"What struck me when I talked to D-Wave is that they are rather modest," said Mike Battista, senior manager and analyst of Infrastructure at Info-Tech Research Group. "They are excited about their technology, but don't over-promise on its potential."

Battista also cited how D-Wave is pioneering more than just quantum computing, but also accumulating experience with new paradigms, such as like superconductivity, that could keep Moore's Law going.

Vesuvius 512 qubit module

Jeremy Hilton, VP of processor development of D-Wave, holding the "Vesuvius" 512 qubit module that will be supercooled down to 0.2mK using a 10kW refrigerator. (Source: D-Wave)

"Their superconducting semiconductors have advantages even outside of being able to perform quantum computing, such as releasing no heat at all," Battista indicated. There is also the potential for the technology to improve exponentially, perhaps being able to carry the next paradigm that continues Moore's Law when traditional transistors reach their physical limits."

When asked why critics claim it's not a "real" quantum computer and they should not be calling it such, Battista had a reasoned answer as to why it's going the right direction.

"I know testing of the D-Wave hardware has been mixed, but I understand why large companies are investing in it anyway," Battista stated. "If there is even a small chance that this is the next foundational technology that underlies computing for the next few decades, the investments will be worth it. Companies that get a head start in developing algorithms and finding problems that are amenable to quantum computing will be at a huge advantage if/when viable hardware emerges."

Quantum computing from then to now

D-Wave's first design back in 2007 used only a few qubits (16) and was not scalable, but used the same supercooled superconducting niobium qubits on a silicon substrate that they use today. Since then Hilton and his crew have redesigned the architecture to be scalable to any size, using an integrated programmable magnetic memory in-line with the processor instead of separate electrodes as in the early designs whose fan-out made scalability infeasible.

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