Did Google’s quantum computer just get the biggest processor upgrade in history? – ExtremeTech
Google will be getting a major upgrade to its D-Wave brand quantum computer, which has been the source of controversy over the past several years. The company has kept a tight wraps on just what it hopes to accomplish with quantum technology, and whether it has started to accomplish it. Now we know that the computer itself will be getting significantly more powerful, and that D-Wave will maintain it with further upgrades for another seven years. If you believe D-Wave’s take on the technology, this newest version is exponentially more powerful than the last.
In a quantum computer of the type D-Wave manufactures, the computational unit is called a quantum bit, or qubit. Each qubit doesn’t just add to the computational power, but expands the “search space” by a factor of two. This is the number of possibilities the computer can consider at once, and for Google’s current D-Wave Two, this figure came in at 512, allowing 2512 possibilities. This upgrade, to 1,000 qubits, thus allows a search of 21000 possibilities.
That number is higher than the total number of particles in the universe.
Of course, that’s only if you believe D-Wave’s advertising copy. The company’s tech has been criticized in the past for allegedly not employing truly quantum phenomena, and for being slower than it ought to be in speed tests. D-Wave has never said that their computer can outperform a normal processor at all operations, but there is some evidence that it can be beat even at its own game.
On the other hand, when the likes of Google and Lockheed Martin are willing to invest millions in the technology, you have to take it at least somewhat seriously. With this upgrade, Google has proven it still has confidence in the potential of D-Wave computers. With their seven-year contract to keep the project state of the art (as though it wouldn’t be if they just left it…) D-Wave can look back at doubters and rely on the name-recognition of its new corporate partners.
It could be that Google is simply investing in D-Wave as a research project, as Google has actually hired the author of the prior linked study and put them to work trying to make sure quantum computers can take real advantage of quantum phenomena. The company is fond of “moonshot” projects, and it could see enough potential in quantum computers to keep expanding the D-Wave for pure scientific reasons.
For a company like Google, which is constantly hungry for computing power to crunch its enormous datasets, the value of quantum computers is obvious. There’s no telling what valuable insights Google could draw from its slice of our lives, with virtually limitless computational power available.
But quantum computing also has the potential to collapse exponentially more computing power than ever before in one incredibly expensive machine, which doesn’t much work for the mass market. However, in the next-gen age of Google Fiber it might be possible to lease computation much like we do data throughput today. If a true quantum computer really was many thousands of times faster than a conventional one, then perhaps it could serve many thousands of people simultaneously.