Canadian firm D-Wave is one step closer to proving the validity of their quantum computer D-Wave Two. The results of an experiment showing signs of quantum activity in the computer were recently published in Physical Review X, a peer-reviewed journal.
But what is a quantum computer?
A quantum computer obeys the laws of quantum physics, that is, physics at a very small level. Tiny particles behave far differently than the everyday objects we can see. This gives them advantages over standard computers, which obey the laws of classical physics.
For instance, your laptop processes information as bits: consecutive zeroes or ones. Quantum computers use qubits which, thanks to a quantum event called “superposition,” can be zeroes, ones, or both simultaneously. Since the computer can process all possible options at once, it is far faster than your laptop could ever be.
The benefits of this speed become apparent when solving complex math problems where there is too much data to sift through with conventional systems.
The British Columbia-based company has sold its computers to Lockheed Martin, Google, and NASA since 2011. This big-name attention has not stopped skeptics from criticizing the company’s claims. Scott Aaronson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the most vocal of these.
On his blog, Aaronson says that D-Wave’s claims are “not supported by the evidence currently available.” While he does accept that the computer is using quantum processes, he points out that some standard computers have outperformed the D-Wave Two. He admits D-Wave has made progress, but says their “claims … are far more aggressive than that.”
Canada’s Quantum Legacy
D-Wave’s computers are not the only advancements in quantum physics to wear a Canadian badge.
In 2013, encoded qubits persisted at room temperature for nearly 100 times longer than ever before. The international team that achieved the result was led by Mike Thewalt of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
In Waterloo, Ont., Raymond Laflamme, executive director of The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), has commercialized a photon detector that uses quantum technology. His next goal for the centre is to build a practical, universal quantum computer. But what could such a device actually do?
The applications are nearly endless, according to the IQC’s website.
Imagine never having to worry about identity theft; hacker-proof encryption of important data such as credit card numbers would be possible with quantum computers.
They would also allow the simulation of atoms and molecules interacting. Scientists could use this knowledge to revolutionize how new drugs and materials are made, and how information is analyzed. Diseases could be cured. All walks of life could be made more efficient and cost-effective.
What more is hard to say. No one could have ever predicted the potential of computers back in 1944 when the first fully functioning electronic digital computer was made. Now, humankind is again at the beginning of a path that could twist in any direction, far beyond our most unlikely imaginings. Potential uses of this innovation include:
• All sensitive data could be encrypted with infallible technology, reducing the possibility of virtual identity theft.
• Atoms and molecules could be accurately simulated, opening up opportunities in medicine, information analysis, chemistry and materials creation, artificial intelligence, and an infinite number of possibilities not yet conceived.