Google, NASA step into quantum computing

NASA, Google, Universities Space Research Association team with D-Wave Systems to tackle processor-intensive apps

Google, NASA and Universities Space Research Association this week invested roughly $15 million in a 512-qubit quantum computer their researchers will use to develop myriad applications from machine learning, web search and speech recognition to searching for exoplanets.

The machine known as D-Wave Two and built by D-Wave Systems will be installed at the new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, a collaboration among NASA, Google and USRA.

[IN THE NEWS: Skylab: NASA's first space station marks 40 years]

Google's Hartmut Neven, Director of Engineering wrote in Google's research blog: "Machine learning is highly difficult. As an analogy, consider what it takes to architect a house. You're balancing lots of constraints -- budget, usage requirements, space limitations, etc. -- but still trying to create the most beautiful house you can. A creative architect will find a great solution.

Mathematically speaking the architect is solving an optimization problem and creativity can be thought of as the ability to come up with a good solution given an objective and constraints.   Classical computers aren't well suited to these types of creative problems.

Solving such problems can be imagined as trying to find the lowest point on a surface covered in hills and valleys. Classical computing might use what's called "gradient descent": start at a random spot on the surface, look around for a lower spot to walk down to, and repeat until you can't walk downhill anymore. But all too often that gets you stuck in a "local minimum" -- a valley that isn't the very lowest point on the surface. That's where quantum computing comes in. It lets you cheat a little, giving you some chance to "tunnel" through a ridge to see if there's a lower valley hidden beyond it. This gives you a much better shot at finding the true lowest point -- the optimal solution."

 The system will reside at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and is expected to be available to researchers this Fall.

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