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Google, NASA Back D-Wave Quantum Computer

In March, Engineering on the Edge covered Lockheed Martin’s investment into the D-Wave quantum computer. At the time, although Lockheed Martin seemed impressed with the system, the verdict was still out on how much faster (if at all) D-Wave’s machine was compared to conventional computers.

Since then, an independent study has confirmed that the quantum computer is as fast, or faster, than other computers. Google and NASA were intrigued enough by the results to partner in order to start an artificial intelligence (AI) lab at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Facility at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

The core of the D-Wave quantum computer.

The core of the D-Wave quantum computer. Courtesy of D-Wave.

Google, unsurprisingly, is interested in how a quantum computer could speed up its search engine and possibly its voice recognition program. NASA wants to use the D-Wave to design AI that can assist in space exploration.

The future of Space Exploration is entwined with the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Autonomous rovers, unmanned spacecraft, and remote space habitats must all make intelligent decisions with little or no human guidance. The decision-making required of such NASA assets stretches machine intelligence to its limits. Currently, AI problems are tackled using a variety of heuristic approaches, and practitioners are constantly trying to find new and better techniques. To achieve a radical breakthrough in AI, radical new approaches are needed. Quantum computing is one such approach. –NASA

So how fast is the D-Wave? One test found the quantum computer could solve a specific problem in .5 seconds, while the next best competing system required 30 seconds to achieve the same result. A separate test found that the D-Wave could solve more problems in a set period of time than conventional computers, at a rate of about 3:1.

NASA and Google have also agreed to grant access to the D-Wave to universities (for free), based on a competitive selection process. While home users might dream about having a quantum computer of their own, the estimated $15 million price tag might be a tad out of reach for most folks. The system is also currently about the size of a mid-sized SUV, so it isn’t exactly convenient to install.

Below you’ll find a video tour of the D-Wave facility.

Sources: MIT, NASA

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