The Quantum Computing Revolution


Every day I am blown away but innovators across the globe pushing the envelope of physics, computing and mathematical theories.  The days of binary processors are waning and giving wave to new generations of quantum machines (see explanatory video).  Quantum Physics has been in academia for over 50 years, in the halls of MIT, Harvard and of course the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.  A revolution only begins when it hits the masses, and in our world that means industry.

In the NY Times it was reported that Lockheed Martin has been working with a Canadian company, D-Wave Systems, for the past two years to bring on a commercial the first business ready quantum computer.  Quantum computing is so much more powerful than traditional binary process as one enters the infinitesimal neighborhood of logic since numbers can mean more than one thing, you see one can be a one, or it can be a one and a zero and everything in between — all at the same time.

This means businesses and science will have supercharged computing systems capable of solving problems/equations millions of times faster than can be done today.  As Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s chief technical officer, explains “It could be possible, for example, to tell instantly how the millions of lines of software running a network of satellites would react to a solar burst or a pulse from a nuclear explosion — something that can now take weeks, if ever, to determine.

“This is a revolution not unlike the early days of computing,” he said. “It is a transformation in the way computers are thought about.” Imagine the writer of the Times says cancer researchers see a potential to move rapidly through vast amounts of genetic data. The technology could also be used to determine the behavior of proteins in the human genome, a bigger and tougher problem than sequencing the genome. In fact, Google has been using quantum computers to recognize other vehicles and landmarks to build the self-driving operating system.

According to the NY Times Quantum computing is so much faster than traditional computing because of the unusual properties of particles at the smallest level. Instead of the precision of ones and zeroes that have been used to represent data since the earliest days of computers, quantum computing relies on the fact that subatomic particles inhabit a range of states. Different relationships among the particles may coexist as well. Those probable states can be narrowed to determine an optimal outcome among a near-infinitude of possibilities, which allows certain types of problems to be solved rapidly.

“What we’re doing is a parallel development to the kind of computing we’ve had for the past 70 years,” said Vern Brownell, D-Wave’s chief executive. Mr. Brownell, who joined D-Wave in 2009, was until 2000 the chief technical officer at Goldman Sachs. “In those days, we had 50,000 servers just doing simulations” to figure out trading strategies, he said. “I’m sure there is a lot more than that now, but we’ll be able to do that with one machine, for far less money.”

Microsoft is also working to with Quantum machines according to Peter Lee, head of the research team, they “are taking a step out of the theoretical domain and into the applied…There is a sense among top researchers that we’re all in a race.” If Microsoft’s work pans out, he said, the millions of possible combinations of the proteins in a human gene could be worked out “fairly easily.”

NY TIMES: Quantum computing has been a goal of researchers for more than three decades, but it has proved remarkably difficult to achieve. The idea has been to exploit a property of matter in a quantum state known as superposition, which makes it possible for the basic elements of a quantum computer, known as qubits, to hold a vast array of values simultaneously. There are a variety of ways scientists create the conditions needed to achieve superposition as well as a second quantum state known as entanglement, which are both necessary for quantum computing. Researchers have suspended ions in magnetic fields, trapped photons or manipulated phosphorus atoms in silicon.

The D-Wave computer that Lockheed has bought uses a different mathematical approach than competing efforts. In the D-Wave system a quantum computing processor, made from a lattice of tiny superconducting wires, is chilled close to absolute zero. It is then programmed by loading a set of mathematical equations into the lattice. The processor then moves through a near-infinity of possibilities to determine the lowest energy required to form those relationships. That state, seen as the optimal outcome, is the answer.

The approach, which is known as adiabatic quantum computing, has been shown to have promise in applications like calculating protein folding, and D-Wave’s designers said it could potentially be used to evaluate complicated financial strategies or vast logistics problems. However, the company’s scientists have not yet published scientific data showing that the system computes faster than today’s conventional binary computers. While similar subatomic properties are used by plants to turn sunlight into photosynthetic energy in a minimal million-billionth of a second, critics of D-Wave’s method say it is not quantum computing at all, but a form of standard thermal behavior.

We live now in a world of billionths of a second, when data can be collect, analyzed and compiled.  As an observer, I am blown away with the fascination of a child that has opened his/her eyes for the first time.

Reprinted with permission.

Image Credit: CC by 500PX

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is the Founding Partner of Autonomy Ventures a New York based venture capital firm focused on seed stage investments in robotics, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence. He has spent the last twenty years building and selling ventures, including: Holmes Protection to ADT/Tyco, Americash to American Express, and launching RobotGalaxy, a national EdTech brand. Oliver has been investing in the robotic industry for close to 10 years, with four successful exits in his angel portfolio in the past two years (including 2 IPOs). He is also a member of New York Angels and co-chairs the Frontier Tech Committee.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy in 2006 to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. RobotGalaxy’s patented toys were a national phenomena available at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online that connected to a virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies including Greensight Agronomics and Que Innovations.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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