News Roundup



As school starts, I should find my way back to a regular blogging schedule. I usually drive my kids to German Saturday school and then pass the time at a nearby Starbucks updating this blog.

Job and family demanded too much of my time this summer. The former has gotten very interesting, as I am documenting a bank stress testing system, but the learning curve is steep. And while I just had a pleasant one week vacation at a pristine Northern lake, it very much lacked in Wifi connectivity and was not conducive to blogging. Yet, I had plenty of time to read up on material that will make for future posts.

Back home, my kids incidentally watched the Nova episode that features D-Wave and Geordie Rose, which prompted my mother-in-law to exclaim that she wants stock in this company. Her chance to act on this may come in the not too distant future. Recently, D-Wave’s CEO hinted for the first time that there may be an IPO in the offing (h/t Rolf D).

Readers who follow the QC blogs have undoubtedly already learned about an interesting paper that supports D-Wave’s approach, since Geordie highlighted it on the company’s blog. The fact that Robert R. Tucci is looking for an experienced business partner to start a QC algorithm venture with may also already qualify as old news – Bob is mostly focused on the Gate model, but is agnostic about the adiabatic approach, and certainly displays an impressive grit and track record in consistently turning out patents and papers.

When it comes to love and business, timing is everything. The US allows for software patent protection of up to 20 years. This is a sufficiently long time frame to bet on Gate QC becoming a reality. But there is still a bit of a chicken and egg problem associated with this technology. After all, it is much more difficult (Geordie Rose would argue unrealistically so) then what D-Wave is doing. Shor’s algorithm alone cannot justify the necessary R&D expense to develop and scale up the required hardware, but other commercially more interesting algorithms very well may. Yet you only invest in developing those if there is a chance that you’ll eventually (within 20 years) have hardware to run them on. Currently, it still falls to academia to breach the gap, e.g. such as these Troyer et al. papers that make hope that quantum chemistry could see tangible speed-up from even modestly sized gate based quantum computers.

While quantum computing will remain a main theme of this blog, I intend to also get back to some more biographical posts that reflect on how the history of physics has evolved. Just as any human history, it is full of the oddest turns and twists that are more often than not edited out of the mainstream narrative. And just to be clear, this is not to suggest some grand conspiracy, but just another expression of the over-simplification that afflicts most popular science writing. Writing for the least common denominator makes often for rather poor results, but just as Sabine observes

The “interested public” is perfectly able to deal with some technical vocabulary as long as it comes with an explanation.

In the same vein, the intricacy of how scientific discovery progresses deserves some limelight as it illuminates the roads less traveled. It also makes for interesting thought experiments, imagining how physics may have developed if certain experiments or math had been discovered earlier, or one scientist’s life hadn’t been cut too short.

My next post will deal in some such idle speculation.

Update: This just in, Google sets out on its own (h/t bettinman), planning to put $8B into its proprietary QC hardware effort. which makes me wonder if the investment will match IBM’s $3B to reach the post silicon area.  Not clear yet what this will mean for their relationship with D-Wave.

15 thoughts on “News Roundup

  1. Henning,
    Did you hear about Microsoft recent reviving of quantum computer project at Q-station?

    1. Hi Alex, MS promotes a very nice story here, and certainly uses them for marketing, but it seems to me the topological approach is the most ambitious one without any clear candidate for hardware yet.

  2. Google is following an other path in addition to D-wave. Given the controversy around D-wave, this is exactly the logical thing to do, if you plan to be in QC business.

  3. Hi Henning: From reading some of the speculations in various articles on the Internet, it sounds that Martinis’s group will be responsible for designing and manufacturing the new gate-model universal quantum computing chip, which will, in all likelihood, be incorporated in the D-Wave’s hardware, thereby getting the best of both worlds. This is very exciting news, and universal quantum computing may be much closer than anybody thought before! Only time will tell.

    1. Hi Sol,

      Geordie has been pretty clear on what he thinks about gate based QC, and Martinis’ group is out to prove him wrong. It will be interesting to see how this tension will affect the partnership.

      On the outset they are well positioned to benefit from this as they have key technological know-how (fab, cooling and shielding) that any superconducting based QC will require for scale-up.

      On the other hand D-Wave is an ant in comparison to the 800 pound Google gorilla, this partnership will have to be carefully managed – but who knows how this will go. Google certainly would have enough spare change to buy them outright.

      One thing is clear though, Martini’s ambitious ten year plans looks much less like a pipe dream now.

  4. I completely agree with your speculation that Google will end up buying D-wave outright! Then, they can do whatever they want! It would make perfect sense to pool the resources of both groups( D-Wave’s & Martinis’s) together, so that the whole enterprise can move forward a lot quicker. By the way, I think this will give IBM the jitters! We shall see.

  5. D-Wave approach to quantum computing is definitely a failure. It is anything but not quantum computer working with qubits. Microsoft Q-station team is looking at other options. If you read the team leader Michael Freedman’s works you will be able to make very intriguing assumptions about hardware they are thinking about.

    1. Alex you have an odd definition of failure 🙂

      For what it’s worth I think topological QC is brilliant but you first have to find the right 2d material for surface anyons that will scale, it’s all very sci-fi at this point. To me it looks like any topological machine is decades in the future (that is unless there is some super secret research underway that is absolutely leak proof and light-years ahead of all the other efforts).

  6. If one thinks that Lockheed purchasing of D-Wave monster is proof of the D-Wave success it’s fine. If somebody begins thinking if the monster really is quantum computer – that’s a bit different story.

    1. What’s in a name? A matter of semantics as far as I am concerned. There’s no demonstrated quantum speed-up, but entanglement and quantum tunneling have been confirmed on the D-Wave chip.

      Frankly, I am getting a bit bored with this arguing over what constitutes true QC. Especially as it becomes ever clearer what the D-Wave architecture entails and what it can do. The thing is what it is, I happen to find it interesting and worthwhile to investigate what it may be good for.

      Scott A.’s argument was that D-Wave would be tainting the public by essentially poisoning the “quantum computing” label i.e. over-promising and under-delivering. Well, this didn’t happen. An argument could be made that Google may not have snapped up Martinis’ research if D-Wave din’t wet their appetite.

      Really, it’s past time to just drop this subject, and move on.

  7. 😀 exciting/ great/ awesome news & aaronson reacts to it over on his blog attempting to preemptively defuse any criticisms of his usually rigid positions. something about him is very slippery, divisive, combative, intolerant, ugh. DWave critics tend to have all-or-nothing extreme thinking and aaronson is the head of the yapping pack. DWave has made tremendous contributions to the field and virtually singlehandedly built much of it from scratch. everything builds on everything else. martinis may not have had this great opportunity if it hadnt been for DWave. moreover martinis has stated he is impressed with DWave and has been influenced by their designs. he talks about combining his own principles of high fidelity qubits with DWave scalability in the next generation. hey, sounds like a real scientist there. able to walk & chew gum at the same time & taking the best of both worlds.
    re your last crossed out link, what happened there, what does the crossout mean? was looking for that $8B figure investment by google & havent seen it elsewhere.

    1. The $8B number is a canard it’s the estimated total R&D expenditure of Google in 2014. Was late when I wrote this.

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