Computers these days are far cheaper and more capable than they have ever been. The laptop you paid over a thousand bucks for five or six years ago can now be obtained for a couple hundred with more features and better specifications to boot. Apparently no one told Google about this low-priced hardware because it recently dropped a boatload of loot on a brand new computer.
The search giant and those space nuts at NASA teamed up to purchase a computer for the not so modest price of $15 million. But this isn’t your typical PC or server. It’s a so-called “quantum computer” that boasts calculation speeds that are said to be 3600 times fast than conventional machines. The newly formed alliance is building a laboratory that will be used to study machine learning and artificial intelligence with computing technology that thrives on the zany concept of quantum physics.
WTF Is a Quantum Computer?
While it’s quite complex, the everyday computer is widely viewed as simple in how it uses binary systems to break bits of information into ones and zeros. These numbers are essentially codes that store data as well as perform a wide range of functions. A quantum computer stores data in quantum bits or qubits, which individually, can exist simultaneously in two states. This unique approach to processing and analyzing data enables the machine to predict multiple scenarios in mere fractions of a second when a conventional computer would take hours to perform the same tasks.
The qubit is the key to this extraordinary functionality and the more you have, the more powerful the system. Rumor has it, though, that hammering out even a single one of these dual units of information is challenging to the point of being thought impossible, leading some to question whether this particular machine can accurately be called quantum computer. Nevertheless, the manufacturer who built the hardware believes it has cracked the code that has left some of the most brilliant minds in computer science scratching their heads for years.
Based in Burnaby British Columbia, D-Wave is the mastermind behind the supercomputer in question. The Canadian D-Wave-Two is equipped with a whopping 512 of those qubits that are said to be so difficult to build. Despite being incredibly involved, its goal is simple — frame complex computing problems into optimal outcomes using the least amount of energy possible. The system is driven by a collection of algorithms that allocate calculations across the qubits and actually responds to the temperature inside the machine, which is maintained using an array of advanced cooling systems.
Potential Quantum Computing Applications
In addition to costing a fortune, the Canadian-made computer is comparable to the size of a small server room, so these things aren’t necessarily flying off the shelves. However, Google and NASA are not D-Wave’s only customers. The firm actually sold a first-generation model to Lockheed Martin two years ago. Lockheed, which specializes in aerospace and advanced defense technology, said it would use the machine to design and test various components in aircraft and satellite systems. The company’s Chief Technology Officer believes it could prove useful in trimming time off applications that currently take weeks to complete.
While Google has yet to reveal how it will utilize this ultra powerful computer, the possibilities are virtually endless. With algorithms that enable machines to perform a variety of specific tasks, react to user feedback, and dynamically improve over time being at the core of its most exciting innovations, it could technically be used in several existing applications. Examples include algorithm-driven products such as Google Now, Google Images, and Search, its claim to fame.
D-Wave sees a future for its super-sized computer in a number of industries, including national security, healthcare, and finance, where it could theoretically be used to power simulations that improve the speed and efficiency of interactive learning environments. The company is also looking at a cloud computing platform that would use a few of these burly machines on the back-end to deliver resources to connected devices. If this particular concept pans out, it could revolutionize the face of computing as we know it.
NASA said the D-Wave Two might be installed as early as this fall at its Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, which is literally around the corner from Google’s corporate headquarters. You know what that means — we may learn what these megapowers have cooked up for their newly acquired supercomputer sooner than later.
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