February 14, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Start-up demos quantum computer

About a year from now, banks, pharmaceutical companies and other large institutions will be able to rent time on a computer that calculates by studying the behavior of a niobium atom, according to D-Wave Systems.

The Canadian company on Tuesday gave a public demonstration of Orion, its quantum computer, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. D-Wave said it is going to try to sell computing services to corporate customers in the first quarter of 2008.

Quantum computers, which researchers have experimented with for years but which haven't yet existed outside of the laboratory, are radically different than today's electronic computers. D-Wave's computer is based around a silicon chip that houses 16 "qubits," the equivalent of a storage bit in a conventional computer, connected to each other. Each qubit consists of dots of the element niobium surrounded by coils of wire.

When electrical current comes down the wire, magnetic fields are generated, which, in turn, causes the change in the state of the qubit. Because scientists understand how niobium will react to magnetic fields and calculate the exact pattern and timing of the magnetic fields created, the pattern of changes exhibited by the niobium can then be translated into an answer that humans can understand.


"The qubits behave according to a certain set of rules," said founder and Chief Technology Officer Geordie Rose, who likened quantum computing to trying to decipher the language of atoms. "Quantum computing is the translation of those laws into a format that we can take."

Ultimately, D-Wave's computer is an analog computer, according to Alexey Andreev, a venture capitalist at Harris & Harris and an investor in D-Wave. Answers to programs run on the computer come in the form of a physical simulation. Answers to problems in digital computers are essentially mathematical solutions.

Because of its inherent properties, D-Wave's computer is optimized for running complex and oftentimes consuming simulations--for example, what happens when different variables are changed in an ornate financial model, or how different proteins interact with various synthetic, simulated pharmaceuticals. The system also could be used for nonscientific research such as searching patent databases for matches and overlap of intellectual property.

"We view these machines as probability distribution generators," Rose said. "We want to build an actual physical embodiment of a hard math problem."

Right now, Orion is a "proof of concept," a demonstration of what the final product could look like. At the demonstration, Rose had the system come up with answers to Sudoku problems and, in another demo, seek out similar molecules to the active ingredient in the drug Prilosec in a chemical database. The computer found several molecules that shared similar structural elements with Prilosec, but the molecule that matched it closest was the active ingredient in another drug called Nexium. Plucking out Nexium demonstrated the system's accuracy, the company said. Nexium is actually a mirror image of the molecule in Prilosec that AstraZeneca invented to extend its patents.

In another example, he ran a seating chart program where each guest had particular seating requirements. (Cleopatra could not sit next to meat eaters. Genghis Khan eats meat, and so on.) The system came up with a seating plan with a minimum number of violations of protocol.

The computer itself--which is cooled down to 4 millikelvin (or nearly minus 273.15 degrees Celsius) with liquid helium--was actually in Canada. Attendees only saw the results on a screen. Still, it was the largest demonstration of a quantum computer ever, Rose said.

By the end of the year, however, D-Wave will have a 32-qubit system. It plans to begin to rent out time on its computers to corporate customers in the first quarter of next year, said CEO Herb Martin. Customer won't have to learn special programming techniques or other tricks to take advantage of the service; sending a problem to D-Wave will be similar to outsourcing it to any other company. Later, D-Wave may lease or sell computers, Martin added.

By the second quarter of 2008, the company plans to have a 512-qubit system, and a 1,024-qubit system is expected by the end of that year.

Quantum computers, Martin emphasized, will not displace digital computers. Instead, they will serve as co-processors for large problems.

But is there a market for renting computing cycles? Sun Microsystems a few years ago opened up a server farm for hire for chemical and pharmaceutical companies. It has found few takers.

See more CNET content tagged:
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Quantum is the final 'local' fronteir
Quantun is so fast that we have to use 3 calculations a,b, and a third c to decipher the final information through deductive reasoning.
In any case it's really the final frontier for local calculations or calculations that the human mind needs to understand. If we do go faster then light someday we will still use quantum through probably something like Quantum Tunneling but the results will still be the same "instant" to us. So this seems great like the final frontier. I hope we can put this into better hard practice as far as controlling atoms and teleportation safely and productively.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Measure not Calculate ?
So at that level I would be measuring a, b, and c to calculate d.
In the end you still have to calculate.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
Public Private Key encryption
Is it just me but does this Make encryption schemes usless ?

(NP problems, can now be solved instantaniously,as long as the answer can be posed in the form of the number of QBits available)
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes and no
Yes, it invalidates traditional public/private key encryption.

But, I've heard it enables another type of unbreakable encryption called quantum encryption.

See <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~jford/crypto.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~jford/crypto.html</a> for references on quantum encryption.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Link Flag
Quantum entanglement
One of the other possibilities is to use quantum entanglement between two hosts to avoid all possibility of snooping since no information is being transfered. Then encryption would be unnecessary.
Posted by demner (62 comments )
Link Flag
Only if ...
This only makes public key encryption useless if:

1) The key length is less than or equal to the number of QuBits, current 16, supposedly 512 to 1024 in the future
2) Correct software is actually written to make the Quantum computer crack the encryption scheme.
3) Someone who wants to crack can actually afford one of these computers and the cooling requirements necessary.
4) The key size does not continue to stay larger than the number of QuBits available in in the largest Quantum Computer.
Posted by jeremynmipowell (1 comment )
Link Flag
Great news for Vista...
..DRM. Imagine a quantum cryptographic key that criminal consumers can not break. I am sure Microsoft is already working on that.
Posted by The_Nirvana (104 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Quantum cryptographic key ?????
What do you mean by a Quantum cryptographic key, have any references?
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Link Flag
And Also!
At last, a computer fast enough to actually *run* Vista at normal speeds...

Posted by nhidealist (13 comments )
Link Flag
Is this for real??
I thought quantum computers were a joke.
Posted by logan1337 (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Quantum computing is real -- but the story is fishy!
I'm not a physicist or an expert but I have written about
quantum computing efforts, so I know a little bit about it.

Indeed, quantum computing has been done and this company is
not the first to do it!

A number of qunatum computing research groups at various
university-related institutes have been able to do computing
using atoms --- but only on a very small, limited scale with a
small number of atoms.

Last I read, (in terms of validated scientific papers) scientists
have been able to contol as many as 12 q-bits, or quantum bits,
to do small-scale computations. That's equal to the power of an
early-stage computer that could manipulate one kilobyte of

And graudally, they have trying to work on scaling up to more
qunatum bits, using more atoms, to get a useful quantum

But the challenge is that the atoms are VERY, VERY difficult to
contol ... the atoms are so extremely sensitive that it takes
massive amounts of equipment worth millions and millions of
dollars ... the cooling equipment and all of that, just to control
12 little atoms.

The more atoms you throw into the picture, the more difficult it
becomes to contol them and to get useful computing out of it.

You get problems like "decoherence" and uncertainity crops up
as well as errors, as you try to control more and more atoms.

These problems are not entirely insurmountable, I don't think ...
and all over the world there are brilliant minds working with
mega-millions of government research dollars trying to solve
these problems and scale up the quantum computer to get it to
do something useful.

If they succeed, it's well worth it ... because if you could control
even just 50 atoms, you would have more computing power
than the biggest supercomputer on the planet today. (That's
because for every atom that you add to the mix, the computing
power of a quantum computer literally doubles!)

In fact, there is going to be BIG BIG trouble when a real quantum
computer hits the road, because a quantum computer would be
so powerful, it would easily break pretty much all of the
government, internet, banking computer security codes in use

It would be a nightmare, until every switches over to a security
system based on quantum mechanics!

So for that reason, it has been a relief that really, easily workable
quantum computers are supposedly still about 20 years away.

But now, this company from British Columbia comes along and
practically out of nowhere is claiming that it can control not only
16 q-bits and that it can just manage nicely 32 quits and even
1,000 q-bits in another year or so ... and is acting as if they
have some magical solution to the "scaling up" problem that
hundreds of brilliant scients with mega-millions, even billions of
dollars worth of equipment have not yet been able to achieve.

Even assuming they really have the equipment to make this
work, the equipment would be so expensive, how would the
business model work? They figure they can just "rent" time on
this quantum computer of theirs and easily come up with
answers that companies will pay massive dollars for?

There is something fishy about this story.

The fact that this company has not published its advances so
far in any science journal and was not prepared to actually show
off this "quantum computer" and would only show a video ... and
that it is making seemingly outlandish claims of being able to
easily control more than 1,000 atoms at a time ....

That's what we need to be suspicious about!

I think it's a marketing ploy.
Posted by Rosesimone (11 comments )
Link Flag
I thought it would be at least 5 years before anything would be ready for the market - there must be some serious money being spent on R&#38;D.
On the other hand, there will now be a mad rush to find ways to defend against criminals with access to such systems. For banks and governments, this could mean replacing all existing hardware with Quantum compatible equipment, at huge cost.
Want to bet paper documents will become King again?
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not real.
I think quantum computing is all smoke and mirrors. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.
Posted by ironbyghte (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'll believe it when I see it
Yeah. The demonstration described sounded as if it could have all been staged.
Posted by airwalkery2k (117 comments )
Link Flag
These people are just as bad as those round-earthers.

(it may be unfeasable, but it doesn't hurt to keep an open mind)
Posted by Tomcat Adam (272 comments )
Link Flag
don't get excited yet
Dwave is yet to convincingly demonstrate that there is anything
quantum about their system. So far, all we know is that they
have a well-developed interface for communicating with their
system. But, there are serious open questions about the
implementation they have chosen.

I'd like to point out a few inaccuracies in the article:
"a computer that calculates by studying the behavior of a
niobium atom"
"Each qubit consists of dots of the element niobium surrounded
by coils of wire."
Qubits are sometimes referred to as artificial atoms, but they are
not the same as actual atoms. D-wave uses persistant current
loops as their qubits. Current flows clockwise or counter-
clockwise around the loop. The current produces a small
magnetic field which can be measured with a SQUID (essentially
a very sensitive magnetomemter).

"Because scientists understand how niobium will react to
magnetic fields and calculate the exact pattern and timing of the
magnetic fields created, the pattern of changes exhibited by the
niobium can then be translated into an answer that humans can
This has very little to do with niobium. The important thing is
that niobium is a superconductor with a relatively high transition
temperature (about 9 Kelvin) and that there are robust processes
for fabricating Josephson junctions (a critical element of their
qubit and SQUID readout) with niobium. But this could also be
done with aluminum. Also, you don't calculate the state of each
qubit, you measure it. If you could calculate the state
beforehand, there would be no need to have the quantum
computer. It happens that D-wave is using few enough qubits
that you CAN calculate the evolution of their system, which is
why most scientists are extremely skeptical of this

"Ultimately, D-Wave's computer is an analog computer,
according to Alexey Andreev"
if it's an analog computer, then it definitely is not a quantum

I'm glad that D-Wave is getting quantum computing in the news
again, I just hope they aren't pulling the wool over our eyes.
Posted by bjohnson00 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How to prove ?
How would one go about proving this ?
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Link Flag
Analog vs Digital Computer
I believe the analog computer statement refers to the way in which you arive at an answer, it is measured not calculated. Like using an RC circuit to perform integration, or LRC circuits to perform FFT's. A quantum computer works much the same, you measure your result, you do not calculate it. The 'analog' analogy is correct. Being able to calculate the results helps to verify the system works as intended. To confirm that it is truely a quantum computer one must compare the calculation time to the quantum computing time, the calculation should take significantly longer even on the fastest of digital computers, the quantum computer should acheive the same result immediately. Analog and Quantum are not mutally exclusive.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Link Flag
Qbit Artifical Atmon
I think you are getting your terminology messed up here.The QUbit is a quantum bit, it is simply a form of measurement.

QUbit's are not refered to as artifical atoms but the association exists with artifical atoms in that most quantum experiments are done with Artifical atoms. Since the process is easier to manufacture and control.

Also niobium-titanium alloy is a super conductor not niobium itself. And its a conductor at 17k not 9k lead conducts at 7k.

Josephson Junctions,refers to the phenomenon of current flow across two weakly coupled superconductors.

A SQUID is a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device.

Early Superconducting experiments used RF SQUID's as the QUBIT. These were typical a superconducting Aluminum alloy loop with insulation to create the Jospehson Junction Phenominum.

The arguement here has so many terms mish mashed together oftem refering to one theory or threoum on Quantum computing and mixing it with another.
Posted by wolivere (780 comments )
Link Flag
responses to questions
Your question about how they would prove that their system is quantum is a good one, since it does not have an obvious answer. For a traditional gate-based quantum computer, one would want to see coherent control of the qubits (called Rabi oscillations) and state tomography to demonstrate entanglement of qubits. D-Wave is attempting something very different, called an adiabatic quantum computer. The same tests don't apply here. But, it would be nice for them to demonstrate a feature of their system, like an avoided crossing between coupled qubits, to show that it is at least quantum-like.

They could also just solve a problem from a 3rd party in a time which is much faster than is possible which a conventional computer.

You make a fair point about analog = measured result. I guess my beef is just when you say "analog computer," people associate that with the sort of examples you mention, which are are classical systems. Also, many journalists seem to think that a qubit is the same as an analog bit, ie. that a qubit can have a real value between 0 and 1. This casts the phenomenon of superposition of states in a way which is very misleading.

You seem to be familiar with some of the past efforts to do quantum computing with superconducting systems. But, I want to clarify a few things. First of all, it is very common in the literature to refer to qubits as artificial atoms. See, for instance:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://arxiv.org/abs/cond-mat/0407325" target="_newWindow">http://arxiv.org/abs/cond-mat/0407325</a>
Nature (London) 431, 162-167 (2004)

Secondly, Niobium is a superconductor all on its own. I believe your confusion comes from the fact that NbTi is the favored material for making superconducting magnets, like you would find in any MRI machine, because it is very ductile. Before NbTi came around, Nb3Sn was a common choice for magnet wire. However, plain ol' niobium is still a type II superconductor.
Posted by bjohnson00 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Heat is the limiting factor of all computing
Everyone talks of the physics of computers, but when they are deployed, it is the chemistry of them that needs most attention. In the case of our current digital computers, the more capacity we add, the more heat we generate and need to remove. It would seem that increasing information entropy increases physical entropy.

It would appear that with D-Wave's technology, we need to do the cooling capacity first and then insert as much computing power as possible. And so the cost trade-off of digital vs quantum computing will be how the information entropy of the complexity of the problem solved is mapped into physical entropy (i.e., heat dissipation) in either method. May the lower contributor to heat genrated per bit of information be the winner.

My prediction, needs large scale to be economic from the get go. My second prediciton is that it will be used successfully in risk models for finance first and be deployed convincingly in 5 years. The D-Wave programmers need to show others how to represent their problems in an analog fashion.

Forty years ago, Morris Rubinoff (RIP), my teacher in a graduate hardware course at UPenn said Analog computers would succeed in the end because of the nature of the problems they solve. He also predicted hybrids. Think I will call the cost of quantum computing curve Rubinoff's Law. Question: What is the analog (pun not intended) in quantum computing to transistor in digital? Answer: What is a qubit. Last question: What is the period of doubling? Answer: ??
Posted by dsherr1 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
added predictions
I'm sure I don't fully understand the discussion but I'll put a few predictions out there.

- Initial Quantum computing will remain in the relm of calculatable ourcomes until the system becomes trusted.

- Beyond the calculatable outcomes, quantum computers will need to be used to further develop quantum computers

- Once the processing hardware matures, we'll need to develop true AI "developer" programs that can write feaky complex programs beyond the abuility for human developers to write and test.

Suddenly Isamov's laws come to mind; no robot may hurt a human through action or inaction.. . .
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
A Qbit is very much like a Pbit.
both can be described as a probability witch can be described or measured as a voltage.

Do not confuse a Qbit (Quantum bit) with a Qbert (Old vidio game where an alien jumps around flipping boxes and trying not to to get stepped on by a snake)
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Brain: Key to Faster Than Light Travel?
Poster no. 1 refers to quantum tunneling postulated as a mechanism for F-T-L travel. What is the brain were similarly involved. The spice melange?

brainy: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://brain.com" target="_newWindow">http://brain.com</a>
Posted by azareus (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Allot has been speculated about the human brain becoming this type of system but people like Hans Moravec have speculated that we would become to disconnected and transparent to be effective anymore. The higher dimensions would be to flimsy and not really contain anything useful.
Or we would be stuck in a limbo type state. To me what would be the point as the universe is set a certain way.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
Brain comprehending FTL
I think FTL is an illusion much like M-Theory speculates the world is a brane (Hologram) Matrix.
A spreading effect. Basically if we comprehend all this now then, it exists now and somehow we are just trying to put it all to good use.
So with our imagination, or brain, it is involved; as we reach the speed of light time does slow down. As we think of everything using our imagination time does seem to stop as we sort of comprehend everthing. But it's only from our own perspective.

Maybe having the multiverse inside a Quantum computer system is the right way to do that type of universal control safely or even realistically as we could have it on such a minute size where it would not effect other's universes.
I only saw Dune the movie.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
Analog? What about Error Correction
If their computer is analog, how do they handle error correction?
Posted by fshiekh (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
error correction
I forgot that part until after I posted the story.

they use the old fashioned way. they actually run the calculation a bunch of times--like 100 or so--and compare results. That wouldn't work so hot in a digital computer but works for an analog. The answers on the first crank, rose added, are in the vast majority of cases the best solution to the problem.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
Link Flag
How would SQL have to be modified for Quantum computing, It is already constraint based (mostly).
Posted by davidmec (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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