Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


In Speed Test, Quantum Beats Conventional Computing

In head-to-head speed test with conventional computing, the quantum computer wins

A computer science professor at Amherst College who recently devised and conducted experiments to test the speed of a quantum computing system against conventional computing methods will soon be presenting a paper with her verdict: quantum computing is, “in some cases, really, really fast.”

“Ours is the first paper to my knowledge that compares the quantum approach to conventional methods using the same set of problems,” says Catherine McGeoch, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Computer Science) at Amherst. “I’m not claiming that this is the last word, but it’s a first word, a start in trying to sort out what it can do and can’t do.”

The quantum computer system she was testing, produced by D-Wave just outside Vancouver, BC, has a thumbnail-sized chip that is stored in a dilution refrigerator within a shielded cabinet at near absolute zero, or .02 degrees Kelvin in order to perform its calculations. Whereas conventional computing is binary, 1s and 0s get mashed up in quantum computing, and within that super-cooled (and non-observable) state of flux, a lightning-quick logic takes place, capable of solving problems thousands of times faster than conventional computing methods can, according to her findings.

“You think you’re in Dr. Seuss land,” McGeoch says. “It’s such a whole different approach to computation that you have to wrap your head around this new way of doing things in order to decide how to evaluate it. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, or apples and fish, and the difficulty was coming up with experiments and analyses that allowed you to say you’d compared things properly. It definitely was the oddest set of problems I’ve ever coped with.”

McGeoch, author of A Guide to Experimental Algorithmics(Cambridge University Press, 2012), has 25 years of experience setting up experiments to test various facets of computing speed, and is one of the founders of “experimental algorithmics,” which she jokingly calls an “oddball niche” of computer science. Her specialty is, however, proving increasingly helpful in trying to evaluate different types of computing performance.

That’s why she spent a month last fall at D-Wave, which has produced what it claims is the world’s first commercially available quantum computing system. Geordie Rose, D-Wave’s founder and Chief Technical Officer, retained McGeoch as an outside consultant to help devise experiments that would test its machines against conventional computers and algorithms.

McGeoch will present her analysis at the peer-reviewed 2013 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Conference on Computing Frontiers in Ischia, Italy, on May 15. Her 10-page-paper, titled “Experimental Evaluation of an Adiabiatic Quantum System for Combinatorial Optimization,” was co-authored with Cong Wang, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University.

McGeoch says the calculations the D-Wave excels at involve a specific combinatorial optimization problem, comparable in difficulty to the more famous “travelling salesperson” problem that’s been a foundation of theoretical computing for decades.

Briefly stated, the travelling salesperson problem asks this question: Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the original city? Questions like this apply to challenges such as shipping logistics, flight scheduling, search optimization, DNA analysis and encryption, and are extremely difficult to answer quickly. The D-Wave computer has the greatest potential in this area, McGeoch says.

“This type of computer is not intended for surfing the internet, but it does solve this narrow but important type of problem really, really fast,” McGeoch says. “There are degrees of what it can do. If you want it to solve the exact problem it’s built to solve, at the problem sizes I tested, it’s thousands of times faster than anything I’m aware of. If you want it to solve more general problems of that size, I would say it competes – it does as well as some of the best things I’ve looked at. At this point it’s merely above average but shows a promising scaling trajectory.”

McGeoch, who has spent her academic career in computer science, doesn’t take a stance on whether the D-Wave is a true quantum computer or not, a notion some physicists take issue with.

“Whether or not it’s a quantum computer, it’s an interesting approach to solving these problems that is worth studying,” she says.

Whether the D-Wave computer will ever have mass market appeal is also difficult for McGeoch to assess. While the 439-qubit model she tested does have incredible computing power, there is that near-zero Kelvin chip operating temperature requirement that would make home or office use a chilly proposition. At present, she thinks the power of the D-Wave approach is too narrowly focused to be of much use to the average personal computer user.

“The founder of IBM famously predicted that only about five of his company’s first computers would be sold because he just didn’t see the need for that much computing power,” McGeoch says. “Who needs to solve those big problems now? I’d say it’s probably going to be big companies like Google and government agencies.”

And, while conventional approaches to solving these problems will likely continue to improve incrementally, this fast quantum approach has the potential to expand to larger variety of problems than it does now, McGeoch says.

“Within a year or two I think these quantum computing methods will solve more and bigger problems significantly faster than the best conventional computing options out there,” she says.

At the same time, she cautions that her first set of experiments represents a snapshot moment of the state of quantum computing versus conventional computing.

“This by no means settles the question of how fast the quantum computer is,” she says. “That’s going to take a lot more testing and a variety of experiments. It may not be a question that ever gets answered because there’s always going to be progress in both quantum and conventional computing.”

About Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst College is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 37 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.

Professor McGeoch | Newswise
Further information:

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>