Is this officially the future? New Scientist reports that Google has been quietly working on a quantum computing project for the past three years, and the company made its first results public at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Vancouver, Canada last month.
In a blog post about the research, Google's Hartmut Neven says his team collaborated with D-Wave Systems, a Vancouver-based firm that "develops processors that realize the adiabatic quantum algorithm by magnetically coupling superconducting loops called rf-squid flux qubits." The image recognition team at Google used this hardware to develop an algorithm capable of identifying cars in photos. New Scientist has the skinny:
Using 20,000 photographs of street scenes, half of which contained cars and half of which didn't, they trained the algorithm to recognise what cars look like by hand-labelling all the cars with boxes drawn around them. . . . After that training, the algorithm was set loose on a second set of 20,000 photos, again with half containing cars. It sorted the images with cars from those without faster than an algorithm on a conventional computer could – faster than anything running in a Google data centre today, Neven says.
Classical computers use what is known as a von Neumann architecture, in which data is fetched from memory and processed according to rules defined in a program to generate results that are stored. It is pretty much a sequential process, though multiple versions of it can run in parallel to speed things up a little. . . .Quantum computers, however, promise much faster processing, by exploiting the principle of quantum superposition: that a particle such as an ion, electron or photon can be in two different states at the same time. While each basic "bit" of data in a conventional computer can be either a 1 or a 0 at any one time, a qubit can be both at once.
As exciting as this development seems, New Scientist points out that some dispute whether the D-Wave processor Google used actually has quantum properties. Neven acknowledges that in his blog post, stating, "It is not easy to demonstrate that a multi-qubit system such as the D-Wave chip indeed exhibits the desired quantum behavior and experimental physicists from various institutions are still in the process of characterizing the chip."