Tag Archives: How to identify a scam.

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.