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NASA Space Science

NASA Backs Quantum Computing Claim 138

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the but-they-did-not-shoot-the-deputy dept.
narramissic writes "Canadian startup D-Wave's demonstration via Web link of a prototype quantum computer in mid-February was met with skepticism in the academic community, but NASA has confirmed that it did, in fact, build a special chip used in the disputed demonstration. According to an article on ITworld, D-Wave designed the quantum chip and then contracted with NASA to build it."
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NASA Backs Quantum Computing Claim

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  • contracted NASA?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paranoid123 (633401) on Friday March 09, 2007 @06:51PM (#18295194)
    Since when was NASA in the contracting-to-manufacture-computer business? NASA is more of a bureaucracy with a collection of labs all over the nation. They usually hand out the contracts. When they need computers they usually contract IBM or Silicon Graphics (maybe not lately) to do so.
  • by Dan Slotman (974474) on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:14PM (#18295412)
    I know nothing about quantum computing—I can't comment on whether it is likely that the chip performs. I do think it is likely that NASA delivered a chip that does exactly what the specifications say it is to do. The question is whether the specifications describe a functional quantum chip. If I recall the original article correctly, there were questions about whether the demo computer worked at all, much less scaled to a useful level.
  • Re:contracted NASA?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TopSpin (753) * on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:57PM (#18295788) Journal
    NASA leases facilities and performs contract work routinely. This is how they keep valuable people and justify maintaining plant and equipment for which they have no immediate need. The classic case is wind tunnel time; both the facility and the staff can be leased by private parties.

    Griffen was recently lobbying Congress [nasa.gov] (see pages 7-8) about this; apparently he would like some red tape cut to permit NASA to do this with certain Shuttle facilities where it currently isn't allowed.

  • Re:First... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zCyl (14362) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:10PM (#18295914)

    The bad part is that fakes share the same fate, except the last bit.

    Isn't that more like:

    1. They ignore you.
    2. They laugh at you.
    3. They attack you.
    4. ...
    5. Profit.
    6. Move to a small island.
  • by tbo (35008) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:34PM (#18296076) Journal
    Disclaimer: IAAPRQC (I Am A Physicist Researching Quantum Computing).

    I have no doubt their chip actually exists. That's not what people are skeptical of. There are more fundamental questions, a few of which I'll list below, along with my guesses as to the answers:

    1) Does their chip demonstrate global coherence?
    Maybe.

    2) If yes to (1), can they maintain that when scaling up to larger numbers of qubits?
    Almost certainly not with anything like their present design, unless they move to implement quantum error correction and the massive amounts of overhead that entails.

    3) If no to either (1) or (2), can they implement a practical algorithm that gives at least a sqrt(N) speed-up over classical computers without global coherence?
    Possible, but would be surprising if true. This is probably the main thing the academic community is skeptical about--we want to see some peer-reviewed research from D-Wave on this.

    4) Why is all the press coverage so horribly wrong and misinformative?
    Because it's more fun to make jokes and stupid statements about quantum mechanics than it is to actually write a clear and well-researched article. Also, talking to an actual physicist is far too scary for your typical J-school grad.

    See this post [scottaaronson.com] on Scott Aaronson's blog for a much more informative and detailed analysis of D-Wave's claims.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Friday March 09, 2007 @09:58PM (#18296654) Journal

    "I've seen firsthand how easy it is to get miilions of dollars out of government agencies for cockamamy schemes."
    The CEO of my second last employer set up a fake company into which was sunk 3 or 4 million dollars of grants from the city. They had no employees but used the reputations of people who had previously worked for this guy. For example, in one press release they quoted me as if I worked for him (because I have a good reputation in the niche I work in). They were just this empty shell that the city trumpeted as this amazing new company all over the newspapers. Eventually really caught up with them, but not before the ex-CEO was off working his next scam. All of this guy's ex-employees knew it was a scam, and one friend informed the local newspaper, but the city turned a blind eye. Now there are all these news stories about how sad it was that it didn't work out, as if it wasn't a scam in the first place. All you had to do was a web search to find out about this guy's previous companies.

    So I have no doubt that if you schmooze with the right people it's trivial to redirect millions of dollars into your pocket.

  • by rmckeethen (130580) on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:31PM (#18297074)

    Also, talking to an actual physicist is far too scary for your typical J-school grad.

    As it happens, I am a J-school graduate, and I work with a real-life physicist. We talk almost every day, and I don't find him scary at all. Granted, we don't talk about quantum physics on a daily basis, but we do talk about other highly-technical subjects. Still, perhaps I'm just not your typical J-school student -- my very first published story was on extra-solar planet detection, a subject I find fascinating.

    During my time in school, I met a number of science writers who appeared to know their subject very well. In my own experience, it was most often my editors who were responsible for sensationalizing and distorting the science stories I wrote. Hell, before I left school, I was thankful simply to have an editor who could add two numbers together reliably, much less comprehend the mysteries of leading-edge science. Sadly, while reporters may spend weeks researching a story, their editors don't usually have that luxury, and they're working under a whole different set of guidelines. Typically, once I turned in my copy, my editors pretty much did whatever they wanted with it, with results that were sometimes strange, sometimes funny and sometimes completely maddening.

    The moral of this story, as you may have guessed, is that not everyone in the media is as ignorant as you may think on science and technology issues. Science is hard work -- is it really surprising that interpreting scientific research, and translating results into layman's terms, is in some ways almost as hard? In any case, thanks for the summary. If more people in your profession could write in such concise and eloquent terms, I think the public would be much better informed.

  • by tbo (35008) on Saturday March 10, 2007 @12:58AM (#18297524) Journal
    It's good to hear that there are at least some journalists with an interest and an aptitude for science. I think the entire quantum computing academic community has been a bit bummed out about the quality of media coverage lately. Scott Aaronson's blog [scottaaronson.com] has a number of posts discussing this issue, including a letter that he wrote to The Economist about its particularly bad D-Wave coverage. There is also some good news--Scott got asked by Scientific American to write a summary of Shor's algorithm--but mostly reading press coverage of our field is just maddening.

    Science is hard work -- is it really surprising that interpreting scientific research, and translating results into layman's terms, is in some ways almost as hard?

    No, it's certainly not surprising. I get a reminder of how hard it is to explain this stuff every time I try to tell someone what I do and their eyes glaze over. I don't claim to be good at explaining it, whereas science journalists seem to be quite good at making stuff entertaining and bringing it down to a layman's level. The problem is the completely uncritical coverage of miraculous claims, and the glaring technical errors that horribly distort the science. Is it common for journalists/editors to run a draft of their article past an actual scientist in the field? If not, why doesn't this happen? Pride? Deadlines? Journalism guidelines?

    After being burned on a previous interview, I'd now be very reluctant to give an interview about my work without the reporter agreeing to run a draft past me for me to check for technical accuracy. Do science journalists honor that kind of request? If not, can you give me a journalist's perspective on what I can do to ensure the resulting article is accurate? I ask because I've got a paper coming out soon that might attract a bit of media interest.

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