Scientists Confirm D-Wave's Computer Chips Compute Using Quantum Mechanics

Testing finds a controversial quantum computer may actually be using quantum mechanics

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Scientists Confirm D-Wave's Computer Chips Compute Using Quantum Mechanics

A strategy of "show, don't tell" for quantum computing seems to be paying off for Canadian company D-Wave. The latest validation for D-Wave's quantum computer claims comes from a paper published in the 28 June edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Testing of the D-Wave chip—housed at the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center—suggested that the device does use quantum mechanics to solve optimization problems. Once quantum computers scale up to have enough processing power, they could prove much faster than classical computers in tackling certain problems, according to the new paper.

"Our work seems to show that, from a purely physical point of view, quantum effects play a functional role in information processing in the D-Wave processor," says Sergio Boixo, a researcher who led the study while he was a research assistant professor in computer science at the University of Southern California, in a press release.

Most research labs have only succeeded in building quantum computing processors with just a few quantum bits (qubits). Unlike classical computing bits that exist as either a 1 or 0, qubits can exist in multiple states at the same time due to the strange rules of quantum physics that dominate reality at very small scales.

That's why D-Wave initially drew skepticism for claiming to have built quantum processors with hundreds of qubits. But rather than follow research labs in trying to build general-purpose quantum computers, D-Wave has developed specialized quantum annealing devices for solving optimization problems.

The Canadian company has slowly won over some critics by giving independent researchers access to its D-Wave machines and inviting them to test its claims. One such test revealed that D-Wave machines could already beat classical computers in solving certain optimization problems.

D-Wave has also attracted notable tech giants as its first commercial customers. The company made its first commercial sale to Lockheed Martin in 2011, and has sold a second chip to Google for future installation at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Members of the University of Southern California team previously published a paper about D-Wave's quantum computing device on the arXiv preprint server in April. Their new paper in Nature Communications—a test of a D-Wave "Rainier" chip with 108 functional qubits—may give former skeptics fresh hope that quantum computing has, in fact, become a reality.

The USC team has barely paused for breath in its race to study quantum computing. USC's Quantum Computing Center received an upgrade to a new 512-qubit "Vesuvius" chip two months ago—the next machine up for a test drive.

Photo: Daniel Lidar, scientific director of the USC Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center and co-author of a recent paper in Nature Communications, stands in front of a D-Wave computer installed at the USC Information Sciences Institute.

Credit: Steve Cohn/USC News

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