Monthly Archives: October 2012

What’s in a Name

Thanks to Mad Men, the concept of brand equity has been widely popularized, the most prominent example being that of a dog food company’s brand becoming toxic after it was reported that it used horse meat in its product (a practice that was outlawed in the US in 1970).

D-Wave is still in the early stages of building its brand, so the fact that some casual observers have very negative views, as apparent from some comments on my last entry, is worrying. Unbeknownst to me, Scott Aaronson put up a blog entry about the same time and I didn’t immediately pick up on it as I was travelling.  Turns out, the large comment string points to a D-Wave 2007 event as the cause for this brand damage. At that time the expectations of the theoretical computer scientists collided head-on with the reality of D‑Wave.

The comment thread at Scott’s blog is chock full of crazy, running the gamut from a poster accusing D-Wave of fraud to another one showering Scott with profanity. Always found it admirable that Scott doesn’t censor such comments but lets them speak for themselves (although Joy Christian proved that his saintly patience is not inexhaustible).

Scott initially challenged D-Wave strongly after the 2007 event (long before I started to pay closer attention – I heard about the 16 qbit claim at the time but didn’t consider such a chip yet commercially viable).  Recently he buried the hatchet, but of course for a theoretical computer scientist the question of what kind of complexity class a certain hardware design can address will remain in the forefront.

Fortunately Daniel Lidar who is currently studying a D-Wave machine reported in the comment section that he plans to soon publish on exactly that.  While other theorists such as Greg Kuperberg seem to be unwilling to move forward and past the 2007 “Sudoku crisis” (video of this “scandalous” demo can be found here), Scott and Daniel will clearly move this to a constructive debate based on published research.

The most prominent argument against this demo was that 16 qbits could not contain the entire parameter space of a Sudoku solution.  Of course this ignores how the D-Wave system is implemented, and that it works in conjunction with a classic system as a kind of quantum coprocessor.

The Sudoku solver is not currently given as a coding example on the D-Wave developer portal.  Since this old controversy can still cause damage to the company’s brand I think it may be a good idea to include it there.

It’s hard to gauge the extent of the brand damage that D-Wave suffered.  Most IT folks will probably not have heard of the company yet, so this mitigates the problem, but on the other hand this left its traces in Wikipedia. The latter will almost certainly be one of the first stops for anybody new to the subject when trying to form an opinion.  It is the first non-affiliated site that comes up in a Google search (when discounting recent news headlines) and it doesn’t get better from there. The next search result is this outright defamatory article from the highly respect IEEE, an organisation that is supposed to be objective.

Although my professional life is mostly IT consulting, I had my share of high tech marketing challenges to deal with (for a while as BI software product manager).  In my experience a problem like this needs to be addressed heads on.  My advice would be to very openly embrace this old controversy and to position how and why D-Wave’s design differs from universal gate-based quantum computing.  The company does that in various places of their web presence, but it took me 1o minutes of googling to find this old physicsandcake posting that addresses this nicely in simple terms. A potential customer coming across old and new misinformation should be able to very quickly find these kinds of counter arguments.






If Quantum Computing Makes a Splash and Nobody is Listening …

“If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a well known metaphysical toy question.  What is less known is its business corollary: If a start-up makes a splash, but nobody pays attention, did it actually ever really emerge from stealth mode?

It is rather welcome news that the latest Nobel prizes in physics bring some attention to quantum computing, but as always, these machines are presented as a future possibility rather than a commercial reality.

Yet, D-Wave already ships the first commercial quantum computing device, and hardly anybody seems to know. Sometimes this ignorance appears to be almost willful.  The company just doesn’t seem to be able to generate ubiquitous mainstream media awareness.

While their device is not a universal quantum computer, it nevertheless can facilitate an extremely useful and versatile quantum optimization, with plenty of real life application usage. The somewhat arcane Ramsey number research already demonstrated the power of the Rainier chip and a recent paper published in Nature shows how NP complex protein folding scenarios can be calculated on their hardware.  An interesting wrinkle to this latest research is that the device doesn’t find the optimal solution as reliably as in the Ramsey number case, but that the other solutions are also valid folding modes of the examined protein and provide additional insight.

The importance of this kind of research can hardly be overstated, so why is this company not mentioned every time somebody writes about quantum computing?

Is it a case of crying wolf too many times?  Is there a perception that the company may have over-promised and under-delivered in the past? Is it a lingering after-effect of the Scott Aaronson ham sandwich controversy?

Your guess is as good as mine.  If you have any thoughts or insights on this please share them in the comments section.

Thank you!
& Short Term Memory Hole Rescue

What difference a few months can make.  When writing in June about how Quantum Computing can be leveraged to execute and speed up Google’s Page rank algorithm received a zero for this metric.

After a couple of my posts have been picked up on slashdot and reddit this site can now proudly display this banner:

Page Rank

Many thanks to everybody who submitted and voted articles up on news aggregator sites and/or provided links to this blog!

Regular blogging will resume shortly.