Big data reignites the supercomputer race: Google joins Supercomputing Project. Since we are generating exobytes of unstructured data at an exponential rate, it was only a matter of time for google to go after Amazon’s d-wave. Now is quantum artificial intelligence the correct answer ?
[Reproduced from Wall Street Journal 05.16.13]
Google Joins Supercomputing Project
By DON CLARK
Google Inc. plans to help create a new laboratory to study quantum computing, a high-profile endorsement of the esoteric technology—and a Canadian company that has been pursuing it since 1999.
An unusual supercooled machine built by D-Wave Systems Inc., of Vancouver, British Columbia, will be installed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center, near Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif. It will be operated by the nonprofit Universities Space Research Association.
The arrangement is designed to allow researchers from Google as well as other institutions try out the system for solving different kinds of computing problems.
Quantum computers take their name from quantum mechanics, the branch of physics associated with the behavior of matter at the scale of atoms or subatomic particles. Researchers have long theorized that machines that exploit those properties could be much faster than conventional computers.
Many companies, including International Business Machines Corp. and Microsoft Corp., have conducted quantum-computing research. D-Wave, whose approach differs from most others in the field, is the only one to have sold any hardware. Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2010 bought the company's first machine, which was installed near Los Angeles in a research center affiliated with the University of Southern California.
The system that will be used in the new lab—the second that D-Wave has placed outside the company—was required to pass a series of tests posed by Google and its collaborators that point to applications in a variety of fields.
"It's yet to be seen what this computer can do in practice," said Steve Conway, an analyst who tracks scientific computing for the research firm IDC. "But the fact that organizations like Google are confident enough to order one is a big step forward for quantum computing."
In a blog post prepared for release Thursday, Google researcher Hartmut Neven said the company is hopeful that quantum computing could be particularly helpful in the field known as machine learning, where computers over time create more-accurate models of real-world phenomena that can be applied to tasks such as curing diseases, tracking climate change and developing improved speech recognition to aid in Web searches.
NASA's Ames Research Center, in its own post, said potential benefits of the system include better answers to problems in fields such as air-traffic control, robotics and mission planning and scheduling.
The tests of the D-Wave system compared its performance on selected algorithms with a computer powered by a standard Intel Corp. chip. In some cases, D-Wave said, the quantum system was as much as 11,000 times faster.
"I pinch myself when I hear that," said Vern Brownell, D-Wave's chief executive. "When in the history of computer science has there been something that's 11,000 times faster than the previous technology?"
Financial details associated with the new lab aren't being disclosed. But outsiders have estimated the cost of a D-Wave system at around $10 million.
Conventional supercomputers may use thousands of off-the-shelf microprocessor chips, each with millions of transistors that handle bits of data represented by either a zero or a one. D-Wave, by contrast, builds its machines around a single chip composed of up to 512 elements called "qubits," which can represent a zero, a one or both values simultaneously. For some types of problems, qubits hold the promise of trying all possible solutions simultaneously to arrive at the best one quickly.
Performing such tricks, however, requires the chips to be made from a material with essentially no electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures. So each chip has to be kept near absolute zero, or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit.
D-Wave's financial backers include Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com Inc., and In-Q-Tel, a venture fund that invests on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency and other government agencies. The company hasn't said precisely how much it has raised, but its CEO, Mr. Brownell, puts the total at more than $100 million.
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