The Dark Horse of Quantum Computing

Updated below.

Recently, Science magazine prominently featured Quantum Information Processing on their cover:


The periodical has a great track record in publishing on QIS, and this is the main reason why I subscribe to it.

Unfortunatelly, reading this issue, yet again drove home what a dark horse enterprise D-Wave is. And this is despite some recent prominent news, that D-Wave effortlessly passed a test devised to check for the quality of entanglement that they realize on their chip. There is hardly any lingering doubt that they managed to leverage real quantum annealing, yet, neither their approach, nor adiabatic quantum computing, is featured at all in this issue of Science.  In the editorializing introduction to the cover story dubbed "the Future of Quantum Information Processing" these fields aren't even mentioned in passing.  Are we to conclude that there is no future for adiabatic quantum computing?

This I found so puzzling, that it prompted me to write my first ever letter to the editors of Science:

The Science journal has been invaluable in the past in advancing the QIS field, publishing an impressive roster of ground breaking papers. Yet, it seems to me the editorializing introduction of the March 8th cover story by Jelena Stajic dropped the ball.

If QIS is prominently featured on the cover of your journal shouldn't the reader at least expect a cursory exposition of all prominent developments in the entire field? There is nothing wrong with the authors of the paper on the superconducting Josephson junctions approach to QC, restricting themselves to universal gate based architectures. Nevertheless, at least in the accompanying editorial, I would have expected a nod towards adiabatic quantum computing, and approaches utilizing quantum annealing. This oversight seems all the more glaring as the latter already resulted in a commercial offering.


Henning Dekant

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the company D-Wave, which ships the first commercial quantum computing device, just puzzled that an exemplary publication like Science doesn't feature the entire spectrum of approaches towards quantum computing.

My bet with a sceptical QC and CIS expert is still outstanding, and in my exchange with him, he mentioned that he didn't expect D-Wave to pass this first entanglement hurdle. The next one to pass now is the matter of actual benchmarking against established chip architectures.

If D-Wave's One cannot outperfom a conventional single-threaded architecture I'll lose 4 gallons of maple syrup, but even if that was to come to pass, it wouldn't spell the end for D-Wave, as it'll be just a matter of increasing the qbit density until a quantum annealing chip will surpass conventional hardware. The latter only improves linearly with the integration density, while a quantum chip's performance grows exponentially with the numbers of qbits that it can bring to bear.


Without further comment, here is the answer that I received from Science:

Thank you for your feedback regarding the introductory page to our recent QIP special section. I appreciate the point you are making, and agree that quantum annealing is an important concept. Let me, however, clarify my original reasoning. The Introduction was aimed at the general reader of Science, which, as you are aware, has a very broad audience. It was not meant to be an exhaustive account, or to complement the reviews in the issue, but rather to serve as a motivation for covering the topic, and hopefully to induce a non-specialist reader to delve into the reviews, while introducing only a minimal set of new concepts.

I hope that this is helpful, and once again, I am grateful for your feedback.
Best regards,
Jelena Stajic
Associate Editor

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11 Responses to The Dark Horse of Quantum Computing

  1. Interesting observations. I think, perhaps, the reason for this rather egregious oversight has to do with a common misconception. People in physics today seem not to believe in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics but they still believe that particles exist and are point like. If you are this confused then you are liable to view entanglement as a special state of matter. Perhaps this is why most folks are sceptical that D-Wave can produce entangled states with superconducting electronics.

    Fortunately for humanity, the average venture capitalist has a far superior understanding of quantum theory than the typical university professor.

    At the end if this sorry tale the University is dead as a place people might expect new and useful ideas to come from.

    Lets face it. Physicists make crap engineers.

  2. Geordie says:

    Henning: you are going to win your bet. What do you get?

    • Henning Dekant says:

      Has to remain top secret for now :-)

      It’s a food item as emblematic for my expert’s country as maple syrup is for Canada, so if you knew you could probably guess my counter-party.

      But I’ve been informed his paper is about to be finished, so all’ll be revealed soon.

      • Geordie says:

        Umm… so this expert is comparing against Rainier? That is so 2010. :-)

        • Henning Dekant says:

          It’s supposed to be the 512 qubit Vesuvius chip, and we only compare the pure annealing time not the full runtime (i.e. including programming, cooling, and readout). As a benchmark the time to find the ground state with 99% probability is used, and the 90%, 95% and 99% quantile will also be calculated, we based our bet on the 95% percentile.

          I am counting on Geordie’s law :-) If my bet wasn’t to succeed this time I’d ask for a repeat with each subsequent chip generation.

          • Paul B. says:

            Then, I think, your 4 gallons of maple syrup should be safe for now! But how would I know… ;)

            Paul B.

  3. rrtucci says:

    “Fortunately for humanity, the average venture capitalist has a far superior understanding of quantum theory than the typical university professor.”

    Kingsley, you made me spill my tea laughing

  4. Glad to hear you D-wave guys so chipper! Having been on the receiving end of much “true-believer quantum nonsense” I hope y’all will be pleased to hear of my next quantum discombobulation campaign of terror…

    Pitching Coursera on the definitive guide to “Comparative Quantum Zealotry.”

    We will take the audience through the full manifold of superposition for all nine levels of Post-Copenhagen Hell :-) That place where even the Pope would fear to tread.

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