Stretching Quantum Computing Credulity

Update: Corrected text (h/t Geordie)

My interest in D-Wave prompted me to start this blog, and it is no secret that I expect the company to deliver products that will have a significant impact on the IT market. Yet, to this day, I encounter the occasional low-information posters in various online forums who dismiss the company, smugly asserting that they are fraudulent and only milk their investors.

08-finanzbetrugIt would be one thing if you’d only encounter some hold-outs on Scott Aaranson’s blog, which originally emerged as the most prominent arch-nemesis before he moderated his stance.  But it’s actually an international phenomenon, as I just came across such a specimen in a German IT forum.

To understand where these individuals are coming from, it is important to consider how people usually go about identifying a “high tech” investment scam.  The following list makes no claim to be complete, but is a good example of the hierarchy of filters to forming a quick judgment (h/t John Milstone):

  1. Claims of discovering some new physics that has been overlooked by the entire scientific world for centuries. (For each example of this actually happening, there are hundreds or thousands of con men using this line).
  2. Eagerness to produce “demos” of the device, but refusal to allow any independent testing. In particular, any refusal to even do the demos anywhere other than his own facilities is a clear warning sign (indicating that the facilities are somehow “rigged”).
  3. Demos that only work when the audience doesn’t contain competent skeptics.
  4. Demos that never demonstrate the real claims of the “inventor”.
  5. Lying about business relationships in order to “borrow” credibility from those other organizations.
  6. Failing to deliver on promises.
  7. Continually announcing “improvements” without ever delivering on the previous promises. This keeps the suckers pacified, even though the con man is never actually delivering.

One fateful day, when D-Wave gave an initial presentation to an IT audience, they inadvertently set a chain in motion that triggered several of these criteria in the minds of a skeptical audience.

Of course D-Wave never claimed new physics, but ran afoul of theoretical computer science when claiming that its computer can efficiently take on a NP hard problem, given as a Sudoku puzzle irritated theoretical computer scientists when claiming that its computer can take on a Sudoku puzzle (the latter is known to be NP hard.) (#1). [Ed. Changed wording to make clear that D-Wave didn’t explicitly claim to efficiently solve NP hard Soduko.]

At the time, D-Wave was still not ready to allow independent testing (#2) and the audience did not contain theoretical computer scientists who would have challenged scrutinized the company’s claims (#3).

Subsequently, critics questioned how much the quantum computing chip was actually engaged in solving the demonstrated Sudoku puzzle, since a normal computer was also in the mix.  Scott Aaranson also pointed out that there was no way of knowing if actual entanglement was happening on the chip, and as such the demo wasn’t proving D-Wave’s central claim (#4).

To my knowledge, D-Wave never misrepresented any business relationships, but touting their relationship with Google may have inadvertently triggered criteria #5 in some people’s minds.

Although D-Wave has been rapidly increasing their chip’s integration density, and are now shipping a product that I expect to outperform conventional hardware, they didn’t deliver as quickly as initially anticipated (#6).

Criteria #7 held until they shipped the D-Wave One to Lockheed, and this marked the turning point after which the pattern rapidly unraveled.  Only people who haven’t paid attention could still hold on to the “investment fraud” canard:

  • D-Wave published internals of their machine in Nature and co-authored several papers that utilize their machine for research as diverse as Ramsey number calculations and protein folding.
  • Independent testers are now able to test the machine.  I can verify that the one tester I am corresponding with is a top notch academic from one of the best engineering and science faculties this world has to offer.  He is also fiercely independent, believing that he can outperform the D-Wave machine with hand-optimized code on a conventional chip.
  • The central claim that their chip is a true quantum chip leveraging massive qubit entanglement has been proven.

It’s time for the IT audience to come to terms with this.

Quantum computing has arrived.  It’s real. Better get used to it.



9 thoughts on “Stretching Quantum Computing Credulity

  1. When a D-Wave machine can solve a problem faster than a conventional computer I think most of the naysayers will be silenced, hopefully the 512 qubit chip will be able demonstrate this.

  2. I heard this conspiracy theory from a guy in a dark suit, over a drink, at a bar in Reston, Virginia:
    Scott Aaronson and Greg Kuperberg have been fervent believers in D-wave all along but the CIA asked them to belittle D-Wave in their press releases and blog posts so that China would not take D-wave seriously and not try to build an adiabatic quantum computer. It worked and now China is 15 years behind the USA in quantum computing technology.

  3. A very nice and dispassionate analysis.

    I think every one already knows my views. However, I will share with the blogging community one smallish overlooked fact.

    The hypothesis of restricted observables that I advanced in my NQG paper:
    happens to dovetail very nicely with the original many-body interpretation of Psi offered by Schroedinger in his last paper of 1926:
    I did not know that at the time, although I did read the first papers. The thing is, it is buried in one of the last papers, and takes a while to spot.

    So I have laid my bet and I am in good company. As far as Psi is concerned I bet with Erwin on the exact same horse.

    Incidentally, if the bet is correct then there is no question that D-Wave has a quantum entangled device. Far worse for the sceptics and zealots, if Erwin and Jones are correct then everything is entangled all of the time without exception.

    Ergo, there is never any disentanglement of the type postulated by von Neumann in his axiomatisation of quantum measurement theory.

    That is why I am openly supportive of D-Wave.

    I cannot vouch for how effective their computer is because I have never used it. However, I do think the underlying physics is impecccable.

    If I am correct, this marks an important turning point in Theoretical Physics. The point of the Great Schism where we have two viable theories.

    Great match up. Looking forward to the prize fight at the end of zealotry 🙂

    Keep up the balanced commentary and skeptical reporting.

    K.R.W. Jones (physicist: retired, mongol: active)

    1. Hi Kingsley,

      recently this paper was brought to my attention. It’s a nice extension of the interaction less “bomb detection” experiment for information transfer without any particle exchange.

      I find this very hard to reconcile without some notion that resembles Schrödinger original understanding.

  4. Hi Henning!

    We never claimed that our systems could efficiently solve NP-hard optimization problems. Don’t take my word for it — it would be great if you could search for a counterexample. You won’t find one! What we actually claimed was that we’d built a machine capable of running a new kind of heuristic (quantum annealing). Which we had.

    My take on the negative reaction is slightly different than yours. It is a product of humanity’s fear and distrust of the new and unknown coupled with the anonymity and (illusory) invulnerability afforded by being able to post anything you want online, without consequence. This latter is related to why people’s behavior changes when they are driving.

    It isn’t anything personal specific to D-Wave. The same exact thing happened to Celera, Tesla, SpaceX, Google Glass, and a bunch of others that try to upset the apple cart, each of which had their own internet trolls and spiritual leaders. Maybe I should write a blog post about it 🙂

    1. Hi Geordie,

      reworded the blog post to be clearer on this. My understanding is that the original Sodoku demo had been misconstrued by sceptical observers, as a claim to efficiently solve this NP hard problem, not that your company explicitly made this (outlandish) statement.

      It seems to me that twisted perception is still accepted conventional wisdom in some low information IT circles. A quick, no brainer shortcut to dismiss D-Wave. My notion is, that at its inception, the unfolding dynamic came down to a misunderstanding between your original venture driven demos and the culture of academic computer science.

      You point to “the anonymity and (illusory) invulnerability afforded by being able to post anything you want online”. And this certainly exacerbates any reputation management (not only that of companies but individuals as well). In a sense an anonymous poster slandering a company is just another cyber bully. What makes the latter especially vile, is that these comments hang around forever and will be dragged up by search engines.

      The only thing that may inoculate against the misrepresentations is a compelling and more convincing counter-narrative. And I hope my writing may contribute to this to some extend.

      1. Just to be clear, we did build software that solved 9×9 Sudoku problems to global optimality using the hardware.

        The problem is NP-hard, but 9×9 is small enough to be solvable without too much trouble using a variety of techniques (obviously, or it wouldn’t be any fun for us dumb humans).

        Even though it was a small problem, it was the first time a quantum computer was used to do anything remotely useful, and because of this it was a pretty important milestone.

  5. The ‘It will never fly crowd’ are alive and well, in the World Of Quantum! My practice is in the ‘fiction’ World of which Quantum is emerging! Sure the Name is being used to sell everything from Pots to Pot (grass) and beyond!! Its a ‘word worth Branding’ but is fast becoming a ‘house hold’ word and can’t be a Brand by itself, then again “Quantum Anything” can and is!!

    In reality my company is registered in the State of Oregon as; Quantum Cafe’ Coos County Oregon 97420. We are a ‘Think Tank’, using “Quantum Theory of Everything”

    All, Staff Members are ‘tops’ in their fields of study; I’m a trained; Physiotherapy specialist in Theatre, having studied under. Dr. William Glasser PhD. Physicist. I enjoy, “Psychodrama” + “Phychotheatre” + “Choice Therapy” Models, at the same time! That is why I’m in Fiction when I teach Quantum Theory of Everything!

    I’m will to wait, a Quantum Year, for the Facts to be proven!!

    Gene Landrum, Ph.Q Quantum Theory of Everything!

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