Monthly Archives: January 2012

Dust to dust – Science for Science

No, this is not an obituary for D-Wave.

But the reporting of the latest news connected to D-Wave just doesn't sit well with me.

Ever tried to strike up a conversation about Ramsey numbers around the water cooler, or just before a business meeting started? No? I wouldn't think so.

I don't mean to denigrate the scientific feat of calculating Ramsey numbers on D-Wave's machine, but the way this news is reported, is entirely science for science's sake.

It puts D-Wave squarely into the ghetto of specialized scientific computation. Although, I am convinced that quantum computing will be fantastic for science, and having a physics background I am quite excited about this, I nevertheless strongly believe that this is not a big enough market for D-Wave.

It is one thing to point to the calculation of numbers that less than one out of ten CIOs will ever have heard of. It is another matter entirely not to milk this achievement for every drop of marketing value.

In all the news articles I perused, it is simply stated that calculating Ramsey numbers is notoriously difficult. What this exactly means is left to the reader's imagination.

If your goal is to establish that you are making an entirely new type of super-computer then you need an actual comparison or benchmark. From Wikipedia we can learn the formula for how many graphs have to be searched to determine a Ramsey number.

For R(8,2) D-Wave's machine required 270 milliseconds. This comes to more than 68,719 million search operations. For a conventional computer one graph search will take multiple operations - depending on the size of the graph. (The largest graph will be 8 nodes requiring about 1277 operations).  Assuming the graph complexity grows with O(2n) I estimate about 800 operations on average.

Putting this together - assuming I calculated this correctly - the D-Wave machine performs at the equivalent of about 55 million MIPS.   For comparison: This is more than what a cluster of 300 Intel i7 Hex core CPUs could deliver.

Certainly some serious computational clout. But why do I have to waste my spare time puzzling this out?  At the time of writing I cannot find a press release about this on the company's web site. Why? This needs to be translated into something that your average CIO can comprehend and then shouted from the rooftops.

D-Wave used to be good at performing marketing stunts and the company was harshly criticized for this from some academic quarters. Did these critics finally get under D-Wave's skin?

.... I hope not.

Update: Courtesy of Geordie Rose from D-Wave (lifted from the comment section) here is a link to a very informative presentation on the Ramsey number paper.  While you're at it you may also want to check out his talk. That one definitely makes for better water cooler  conversation material - less steeped in technicalities but with lots of apples and Netflix thrown in for good measure. Neat stuff.

Update 2: More videos from the same event now available on D-Wave's blog.

The story patterns of your life and what does this have to do with quantum computing?

Storytelling is an integral part in how we usually organize our world. How did you chose your line of work? How did you meet the love of your life, or if you haven't yet, why not?  There will be a story in the answers to these questions.

In our mind we constantly write on the story arc of our life. But there is a different view of the world that is no less valid. Once I read the story of Goldilocks to a child who was diagnosed with a mild form of autism spectrum disorder. When asked to summarize the story, the child answered:  "There was a pattern that repeated three times, then the bears came home."

A brain like this is tuned to see patterns where other kids just perceive the story.

We humans like to share our stories and by doing this we make the patterns of our lives accessible.

A whole industry sprang from this, with its poster boy Facebook valued in the billions. The money of course is not in the stories but in the exposed patterns.  Tantalizingly, an unparalleled depth of market research seems to be in reach. Corporations in the B2C space seem to be at the cusp of achieving a completely transparent view of their customers.

There are only two obstacles: Customer's concern for privacy and the sheer amount of data. Both bode well for quantum computing, and create opportunities for a customer driven market that D-Wave can take advantage of.

Social networks currently thrive on sharing images.  Let's consider a concrete example:  A report that breaks out over time how many teenagers are wearing Nike versus Adidas shoes on photos shared online - broken out by gender and ethnicity. This kind of data is worth a lot of money but not enough to hire a small army of market analysts to compile it manually.  On the other hand fast, advanced image recognition is a good fit for D-Wave and one of their demo cases.  If they are as good as they claim they are, this kind of customer intelligence will quickly amortize an investment in their hardware.

Given the price tag and size of D-Wave's machine it is easy to jump to the conclusion that quantum computing is in the mainframe age, similar to the early days of information technology.  Clearly the quantum computing power will be skewed to the 1% of big corporations?  Not necessarily,  because the analogy is flawed: The early mainframes were introduced into a pre-Internet world.

Consider the following business model:  Don't want photos of you posted online without your knowledge? How about a web-based service that tracks any photos that show your face?

If enough individuals were willing to subscribe to such a service, it could harness the power of D-Wave's One system to sift through millions of photos a day.

The patterns in the plethora of image data that we leave online is just the tip of the iceberg.  Apps like Google Goggles will ensure yet another data explosion in this area (and in due time they will be always online). Additionally, I expect ever more health relevant data added to the pile. Eventually some truly life changing and enhancing patterns will be uncovered. If ever another deadly product like cigarettes gets introduced, one can quickly connect the dots and a cover-up becomes unfeasible.

We may not see a quantum computing matching you on an infinite number of dimensions any time soon.  But I am convinced that unbeknownst quantum computing will come to the masses sooner than generally anticipated.