D-Wave demonstrates latest quantum computer prototype at SC07

D-Wave demonstrates latest quantum computer prototype at SC07

Summary: The words "paradigm shift" don't do justice to the potential of quantum computing. Everyone agrees it's coming, and it's going to turn the industry, if not the entire world, on its ear. Well, it's here now, says D-Wave founder Geordie Rose, who demonstrated his company's latest prototype on the floor of SC07 in Reno, Nevada. The company is starting a new push to convince skeptics that their invention is real. But is the patent portfolio they're building the real prize?

TOPICS: Legal, Hardware

D-Wave demonstrates latest quantum computer prototype at SC07

The words "paradigm shift" don't do justice to the potential of quantum computing. Everyone agrees it's coming, and it's going to turn the industry, if not the entire world, on its ear. Well, it's here now, says D-Wave founder Geordie Rose, who demonstrated his company's latest prototype on the floor of SC07 in Reno, Nevada.

Ok, not actually "on" the floor, because the actual machine is a bit unwieldy at the moment. In fact, it's about as large as D-Wave's entire booth, so demos were run remotely via a web service back to the lab. "We're going to work on making the refrigerator a bit smaller and self-contained," said Rose, thinking ahead to commercial deployments.

The latest iteration of D-Wave's chip has 28 qubits (quantum bits), according to Rose. He said they were on track to show a 512 qubit machine next year, and 1024 the year after that. The die has room for a million qubits. But first things first, says Rose. "If we can't get to 512 qubits by the end of next year, we're in trouble," he admitted.

D-Wave's quantum computer works by seeking the lowest energy state given a set of inputs and constraints. Imagine turning the dial on your FM radio. You go past a strong signal, then reverse the dial and go back and forth until you zero in on the station. Now imagine you have thousands of knobs to turn. That should give you an idea of what goes on in a quantum computer when it's running a program, except that instead of gradually getting stronger or weaker the signal flips between different discrete quantum states. Occasionally the computer might settle on the wrong answer, explains Rose, so they run each program 8 times and take the majority answer. It's weird, but it seems to work.

In the picture above you can see a magnified view of the individual qubits on the chip. Each qubit is connected to three of its neighbors. I asked Rose why people were so skeptical of his work. It all comes down to the traditional way of relating discoveries through peer reviewed journals, he explained. They skipped that step, much to the dismay of physicists eager to verify the company's claims. That's going to change, he promised. "We're going to go out to some of the hotbeds of skepticism" in the coming year, he said, with the goal of silencing the nay-sayers. They might even file a paper or two, but it didn't seem to be a priority.

Apparently the US Patent and Trademark office is convinced, having granted the company dozens of patents on the technology. Dozens more are pending. "We have more [quantum computing] patents than any other company in the world," said Rose. Perhaps this is the real plan for the company's future success. Even if the device they've built doesn't prove to be practical, D-Wave (and their investors) should still be able to make a tidy profit from their patent portfolio when somebody really does make a viable quantum computer. "It's hard to imagine anybody building anything remotely like this without running into our patents," Rose asserted.

Topics: Legal, Hardware

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • Other researchers aren't convinced...

    It's good to see there was someone from ZDNet at the demo - I've been watching D-Wave from the UK for a while, and put something up earlier in the week, based on the publicity, and the reactions of the academic quantum computing community.


    D-Wave is the only commercial company in a field that has been characterised by slow progress for the last twenty years - its claims have raised a lot of scepticism.

    Peter Judge
    ZDNet UK
    • Down to earth

      In your article you write: "In a quantum system, all possible quantum states exist, so a quantum computer could find the best answer to a problem by testing all possible answers at the same time, in what are sometimes described as "parallel universes"."

      D-Wave's system doesn't do anything so grandiose. Does that mean it's not a quantum computer? Some have argued that, but on the other hand, it computes things and it's based on properties of quantum states so I don't see why it wouldn't qualify.

      One panelist made a distinction between D-Wave's approach and "classical quantum computing", which I found pretty funny given that "classical" implies something that's been around for a long time and is well established, neither of which applies here.
      Ed Burnette
  • Patent rights and wrongs

    Now why is it I get a queasy feeling in my
    stomach to hear what they are saying about
    patents. What will this do for someone
    designing one if/after they fail as specified?
    Make someone who is successful pay? This seems
    slightly out of whack. At this point it may
    seem like they are patenting theory and not a
    practical end, but patenting the route anyone
    would have to use in order to make use of the
    technology. This is akin to patenting a light
    switch on and off position. There is not any
    other practical method to use it. So what, we
    then have to pay someone a fee to turn on and
    off the lights?

    Now admittedly this may not be the case here,
    but it sounds a lot like it. Patents should go
    for working systems and currently there is some
    scepticism there actually is one in this case.

    For all we know, this could turn out like the
    Cold Fusion claims years ago, but in this case,
    they have patented the roadway already with

    On the other hand, they get third party
    verification and results then by all means
    patent. I just hate the idea of seeing a
    potential technology possibly hobbled by patent
    • So you would rather they

      spend all this time, money, and effort and gbet umm, nothing for it?

      Obviously they are further along in their research than others by the very fact they are able to define what it is they are patenting while others can not.
      • I think the point was

        that if, down the road, D-wave folds, and in the future, someone else spends their time and money developing a working system, why should they be beholden to D-wave? If D-wave wants to license the patents out, that is one decent route. I don't think that the suggestion is that someone should be able to take D-wave research or copy their patent and walk away with it for free. If that is the suggestion, I would agree that it is wrong.
    • Patent Prevention

      Seems to me we'll all drown in a sea of litigation about who owns what. There are more and more people making too much money out of not doing anything useful such as creating new products but stopping other people. Whatever happened to making a better product or providing a better service so people actively want the product? How the Indians and Chinese must be laughing. What if we have review period for patents which requires a product to be offered for sale within say four years or the patent is invalidated. The price could be set at a percentage of the development cost.
      • There is already a similar rule..

        If you expose the design to anyone in the public; and don't develope patent within a year of that exposure, all bets are off.

        Of course if you don't expose it and put it in a safe; well you wouldn't even need a patent if it is sealed in a postal canceled envelope and you have a good lawyer.

        That would be the thing your idea would prevent and I think it might be a good one; except not all inventors have the means to bring ideas to market. If they expose it to a large corporation that does have the means, it gets stolen and their lawyers win.

        It is the whole patent system that needs an overhaul.
        • Exposure

          What if you "expose" something in a published technical paper. If you have not patented it when the paper gets published, can it ever be patented (by you or others)?
          Ed Burnette
          • Apparently

            It can be patented by someone as long as it was "exposed" to your wastebasket.
          • Good question, I am not a patent attorney...

            I've only read that if someone beats you to the year end deadline then they could patent it first. After the deadline the product is unpatentable(providing the description is accurate); and anyone can manufacture it without worring about a patent. But then you will compete with anyone else that desides to distribute it also.
      • Medication?"The price could be set at a percentage of the development cost"

        Think about it next time you need any medication or software or practically anything.
  • Confusing article

    Ed were you there? Did you see in in action? Did it meet the makers claims?

    Come, details man...
    • No responce?

      Whats up wtih that?
    • I was there

      Geordie gave me a demo personally of the photo matching programs. They had an interactive one and a batch one. The batch one processed 300 320x200 pictures and created clusterings of them based on feature similarity. For example it could recognize and cluster pictures of Big Ben taken by different people at different angles, times of day, and so on.

      The program took 4 hours to run, so what he showed me was the clustering graph created by the program. He said this was about 4 times slower than what a traditional computer architecture could achieve, but that as they add more qubits the speed will meet and then exceed traditional architectures.
      Ed Burnette
  • All I can say is...

    Can you imagine a Flight simulator on a quantum computer? It'd make Final Fantasy look like an 80s game. :)

    - Kc
    • It's not what you think it is

      These quantum computers are great for certain tasks like pattern matching or search; it's not going to run your flight simulator.
      • Hmmm, everything has

        a pattern if you look deep enough. ;-)

        But yeah, not today anyhow.
      • It's not what you think it is

        so in other words, it will only be of any use to your Homeland Security, FBI and CIA (plus all the other spook outfits you have in the US) for their digital spying on the rest of the world?
        • It would be useful...

          for anyone running intense mathematical problems. Not particularly useful for iterating display graphics. There would really be no benefit at all to running a word processing program. Consider some of the uses supercomputers are put to (not all).
      • Might help design the air/exo-space craft the ...

        simulator emulates! Flow dynamics takes a lot of computer power especial in high resolution on exo-atmospheric vehicle design.