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NASA Space Science

NASA Backs Quantum Computing Claim 138

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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  • by simdan ( 207210 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @06:48PM (#18295172) Homepage
    After all, aren't they the ones that filmed a moon landing in some studio?

    Sorry to bring out all the conspiracy nuts, couldn't resist. :-P
    • I believe NASA's various wolf-cries about life on Mars over the years are a much more compelling reason to be skeptical when they announce something.
  • 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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
    • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @06:53PM (#18295222)
      How else is NASA supposed to afford diapers?!
    • by dattaway ( 3088 )
      NASA developed this chip on their first Apollo mission to the moon. I saw it myself on television as they recorded one of their monitors and they took many pictures to prove it was real.
    • Re:contracted NASA?? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:14PM (#18295406) Journal
      Several government agencies, especially national labs, do lots of civilian work. Often the labs do the basic research, and companies turn it into products at affordable prices.

      If you read TFA, it stated that only certain agencies had the equipment to make and run the chips in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TopSpin ( 753 ) *
      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 [] (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.
  • by Dan Slotman ( 974474 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @06:51PM (#18295204)
    The existence of a chip does not imply that said chip actually works.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @06:52PM (#18295212) Journal
    Does it mean the chip works, and it actually performs quantum calculations? I see nothing in the TFA where NASA confirms or denys the actual function of the chip, just that they made it based on D-Wave's design.

    I still don't see any proof that anyone computed anything quantumly. How hard is this to prove, anyways, to all the quantum physicists in the house?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Does it mean the chip works, and it actually performs quantum calculations?

      It worked in one universe anyway

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Xoltri ( 1052470 )
      The first rule of quantum computing is don't ask questions.
    • no, but it does build up to be pretty extensive and expensive scam if that indeed is what it is!
    • How hard is this to prove, anyways, to all the quantum physicists in the house?

      Very hard, seeing as at anyone time it both does and doesn't work.

    • by sco08y ( 615665 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:15PM (#18295958)
      How hard is this to prove, anyways, to all the quantum physicists in the house?

      IANAQP, but I think it's pretty hard to prove given that you can simulate a quantum computer with a classical computer. (Source. [])

      But, if you have lots of qbits then you can simply argue that it's running too fast to be a simulation:

      "Take for example a system of only a few hundred qubits, this exists in a Hilbert space of dimension ~1090 that in simulation would require a classical computer to work with exponentially large matrices (to perform calculations on each individual state, which is also represented as a matrix), meaning it would take an exponentially longer time than even a primitive quantum computer." (ibid)

      So I'm thinking that when they get to their 64 or 128 qbit device that we know for certain that it's genuine.

      I wonder how long it'll be before Intel and Motorola are selling quantum computers and arguing about the qbit myth?
    • 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?

      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 [] on Scott Aaronson's blog for a much more informative and detailed analysis of D-Wave's claims.
      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @09:05PM (#18296294) Homepage
        Thank you. Maybe.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rmckeethen ( 130580 )

        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.


        • 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 [] 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.
          • by raddan ( 519638 )

            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?

            Because there are no repercussions for being wrong. The only people who care are the small number of scientists who know the difference. Your average casual science reader mentions a "breakthrough" to his wife over his Sunday morning bacon and toast who replies "What will they think of next?" Science reporting is essentially for shits and giggles, since most experts get their "news" through conference talks, mailing lists, or peer-reviewed journals. Science reporting is good filler and it sells papers.

            • by delong ( 125205 )
              Note that journalists are much more careful with their facts in this case

              No they aren't, unfortunately. Most of the time it is painful to read political, and particularly foreign affairs related, articles. It is usually 10% fact, 20% misinterpretation, 70% editorializing.
  • This is irrelevant. DWave claimed to have the first commercial quantum computer. And then the details are its only a few bits (nothing new), can't come close to matching the performance of a classical computer (obvious), and then a complete absence of any indicators that the design will scale other than "we plan to have 1000 bits in a year".

    What they claimed is trivial, the problem academics have is that they claimed it wasn't and that it will scale.
    • by Panaflex ( 13191 ) *
      Yeah.. Marconi had the same problem.

      Really though - I've been wondering if there's just a tad bit of "professional jealousy" going on here. I don't have the background to prove or not prove any of D-Wave's claims - but I still give them a high chance of success.

      They're committed individuals who are sticking their necks on the line. They went from mixing chemicals in a jar and shooting lasers in a lab to a working prototype.

      If this venture fails - I don't see those guys making much headway for a number of
  • by N3wsByt3 ( 758224 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:36PM (#18295594) Journal
    I'm a tenured professor in quantumcomputing and I can assure you the chip works! This is based on a paper I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility.

    O, wait...

    This was meant to be posted here: 9 []

    Sorry, my mistake!
  • Big Deal? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I still don't understand what all the fuss is about. So there's a computer capable of making really really really small calculations. I need a computer to make BIG calculations for me. Don't sweat the small stuff, I say.
  • First... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:55PM (#18295776)
    First they ignore you, then laugh at you, then attack you, then you win.

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

      "They laughed at Galileo! They laughed at the Wright Brothers!"


      They also laughed at Bozo The Clown.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zCyl ( 14362 )

      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.
    • From what I've seen, the people in the know haven't ignored, laughed, or attacked. They've simply responded with their normal skepticism. Solving Sudoku and throwing around buzzwords like NP-complete is a great way to impress the media and all, but they're waiting for solid proof. They could also improve their case by asking their marketing team to shut up for a while and giving their engineers a chance to say something coherent about the invention.

      Quickly producing the prime factors of large arbitrary n
      • Quickly producing the prime factors of large arbitrary numbers would probably do much to reduce the level of skepticism
        Nah, that would only attract unwanted nightly visits from some nice folks that happen to work at CIA and NSA.
  • They even fund antigravity research []
  • It's real! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:14PM (#18295938)
    I know it's real. I've actually seen it in action. An unfortunate side-effect is that my cat suddenly died... and didn't.
  • Not this again... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:19PM (#18295980)
    NASA doesn't necessarily "back quantum computing claim" of D-Link. They just confirmed they made a chip for them. Didn't we already find out a month or so ago that, according to their own admission, it's not a true quantum computer, but it MAY use some quantum principles in its design? As far as I care, even that claim hasn't been verified.
    • D-Link? (Score:3, Funny)

      by SethHoyt ( 1024709 )
      I didn't realize it took quantum computing to power my wireless router...
      • I didn't realize it took quantum computing to power my wireless router...

        Right now each D-Link firmware upgrade fixes some problems and breaks other stuff that was working fine. Maybe with quantum computing they could come up with a superposition where all the advertised features operate at the same time.
    • Well of course, it both is and isn't a quantum computer at the same time.
  • D Wave (Score:2, Funny)

    by lelitsch ( 31136 )
    This D-Wave quantum computer seems to be neither here not there.
  • "backed the claim" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaggieL ( 10193 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:26PM (#18296022)
    Insofar as I can tell, JPL has backed the claim that they made the chip; nothing further.
  • by PenGun ( 794213 )
    See the thing is a real quantum chip will have already been working for some randomish while.
  • ...But I will worry when they have their chips built by Setec Astronomy, instead.

    ( [])
  • by stim216 ( 881386 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:48PM (#18297192)
    Finally! A computer that can run vista!
  • Seeing as NASA has confirmed this CHIP is real, I think it's time for Weird Al Yankovic to come up with a sequel to his 1999 killer music video titled "It's all about the Pentiums Baby!"

    The hilarious video: []

    Some video sequel suggestions for Mr. Yankovic:
    1) New title might be "It's all about the Qubits, baby!"
    2) Any references to Y2K should be updated to reference DST in 2007 & UNIX date issues in 2038
    3) The T1 at his house needs to be upgraded to quad OC768 SONE
  • I'm pissed that my lifetime financing NASA, which is usually the government expense of which I'm most proud, is subsidizing some foreign corporation's R&D pulling it ahead of American business. America isn't necessarily any better or more deserving of first place, but it's my country, the one I'm paying for, the one I'm living in, the one NASA exists to serve. I'm perfectly happy with all the returns from NASA's American research investments into the world's benefit. But directing NASA's limited operati
    • It doesn't matter if the benefactor is public or private, foreign or domestic; just so long as they line the right political pockets.
      That's the American way my friend. After all any republican will tell you that any business move is ethical so long as it isn't illegal or the business is willing to pay the cost of its actions.

      • Another part of the American way is to stand against those abuses. To publicly denounce them. To demand accountability. America's is the interactive citizen/government model. Your post is part of it, but would be more effective if pointing out how to fix it despite its propensity for breaking.
        • 'Another part of the American way is to stand against those abuses. To publicly denounce them. To demand accountability.'

          Perhaps during the lifetime of some previous generation. The generation before my own did something like that with Vietnam. The government ignored the people and continued to slaughter American children until it had shown the people it wouldn't cow on their say so before opting to pull out on its own.

          This is seen again with Iraq. The people opposed the so called 'war' in Iraq from the sta
          • The generation before our own volunteered for Vietnam in greater numbers and percentages than the generation before theirs did for WWII. Only because of the draft and the eventual overreaching of Nixon without a compliant partisan Congress did the Vietnam War end, after at least 4 years of both reasonable Americans and the Nixon administration knowing it was hopeless.

            People have almost as much power in our government, especially over big, black/white issues like fighting the Iraq War, as we exercise. The su
            • 'There are patches to the main diseases, like campaign finance, prohibitions on party conspiracies, and routine investigations of any corruption/malfeasance/incompetence evidence by actually competing powers.'

              Nothing you have said changes the core facts. The fact that every American can vote for a third party on a diebold machine and the numbers it spits out will still elect the same candidate that nobody voted for. People can be outraged and demand action but who are they demanding it from? The same corrup
              • Those are facts. But there are so many other facts about the political system that it's far from as simple as you describe. And full of opportunities for constructive change.

                For example, look at the new Democratic senators from Montana and Virginia, respectively. They were elected outside the party apparatus, by activist party members. They're both fairly conservative, though delivered by activists more liberal than the Democratic party itself. They are not part of the deterministic system that you describe
  • Both this article and D-wave's PR speak sucks:

    "You could characterize our announcement as being met with enthusiasm from industry and skepticism from academia," D-Wave CEO Ed Martin said in an interview Feb. 27. But he said the event served as proof of concept of the technology, and that D-Wave's potential customers are businesses that don't care how the technology works as long as it can solve their complex models. He plans to start renting time on the machine to customers in 2008

    Bullshit. Academics aren't

  • The implications are staggering ... and of course include the fact that ALL encryption schemes are now broken!

    This is sO staggering an issue that it just has to be the case that secret projects are involved in the effort. The article states that this company alone has been working on this for 10 years ...

    Could it be that their step-wise fashion of 'progress' in their efforts are nothing more than actions taken to give time for the financial community, eg, to find ways to handle the matter, not to say gove
    • by mark99 ( 459508 )
      Not all.

      I figure one time pads are still safe, as long as the pad is as long as the message. And quantum generated ones should be quite convenient too, and unsniffable.

      Think about it, if you tried all decryption possiblities, some should decrypt to an intelligble message that is the wrong one. You need to know the pad to know which message was sent.

      Or have I missed something here.
  • Am I the only one who's tired of all the "uncertainty jokes"? (Yes, I know I might or might not be). Too bad you don't really know if a comment is a (bad) joke until you read it.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972