Tapping into the ostensibly "magical fount" of quantum mechanics could possibly result to an outpouring of new and ground-breaking advancements in material science.
A team of Google and NASA engineers is at the heart of an incredibly significant finding that may someday lead to precisely that.
Deep within the space agency's Advanced Supercomputing center in Silicon Valley is a huge black box called D-Wave 2X Quantum Computer. It is a machine acquired by Google and NASA in 2013 which can decipher complex problems that classical computers cannot handle.
"We have already encountered problems we would like to solve that are unfeasible with conventional computers," said Google Vice President for Engineering John Giannandrea. "We want to understand the future that may lie ahead of us in non-conventional computing."
10,000 Years Of Computing Reduced To Mere Seconds
On Dec. 8, Google and NASA announced that the D-Wave 2X turned up with an answer for an optimization problem within mere seconds, a processing speed that is 100 million times faster than that of average computer chips.
Google Director of Engineering Hartmut Neven said that what the D-Wave 2X can process in a span of a second is something that a single-core classical computer can solve in a span of 10,000 years.
Quantum computers such as the D-Wave 2X are significantly faster because they run on quantum bits or qubits instead of simple 0's and 1's. For qubits, each 0 and 1 can be performed simultaneously. Because of that, the calculations can be accomplished at higher speeds.
Specific Optimization Task
The D-Wave 2X computer runs on 1,097 qubits, making it best suitable for optimization problems. Optimization problems are, in practical terms, instances when scientists have to find the best way to sift through a number of possible solutions.
Similar problems occur in air traffic control modeling and space missions, all of which NASA devotes computing resources to.
The optimization problem that the D-Wave 2X solved had about 1,000 variables. Systems with quantum effects would help solve more complex problems, scientists said.
Google and NASA engineers believe that the findings represent a step towards something extraordinary, but it comes with some warnings.
The D-Wave 2X computer can only perform a limited set of quantum calculations, scientists said. Manipulating optimization problems to become suitable for the quantum computer is not an easy task, and only a few know how to do it.
"We need to make it easier to take a practical optimization problem as it occurs on some engineer's desk," said Neven. "We need to make the input into the machine easier. That is not there yet."
The findings of this study are featured in a scientific paper which is yet to be peer-reviewed.