Why Google's next big thing could be a warp-speed supercomputer

Story highlights

  • Google has assembled a team of experts trying to craft a quantum computer
  • Financial services, machine learning and other industries could benefit
  • Quantum computing especially useful for complex "optimization" problems
It depends on mind-bending physics and ultra-cold temperatures but quantum computing could bring about a new era in processing power that promises to revolutionize everything from artificial intelligence to high finance.
The field of quantum computing is still in its infancy but it was given a sizable boost when Google announced in September that it is partnering with experts from the University of California Santa Barbara to develop quantum computing technology as part of its Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab team. The project also sees Google pairing up with NASA and the Universities Space Research Association to create technology that could become the world's fastest supercomputer.
How it works
In a traditional computer, circuits are either on or off, and use binary code of ones and zeros for solving problems. A quantum computer uses quantum bits -- called qubits -- and has circuits which exist in all possible states at the same time -- a one, a zero and everything in between. This ability to exist in various states greatly increases the processing power of quantum machines.
While the science behind quantum computing seems very technical, broken down in the simplest terms it amounts to a computer which could operate at breakneck speed in comparison to a traditional computer that uses a binary system, and would be especially useful for solving what are known as "optimization problems" -- finding the best solution among huge numbers of possible options.
Currently, the world's fastest computer belongs to China, the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, which can carry out about 34 quadrillion calculations per second. Experts say a quantum computer would ultimately far surpass this speed.
Google's Quantum Artificial Intelligence team has been working with scientists from Canadian company D-Wave Systems, which owns what has been called the first commercially viable quantum computer.
Some experts have cast doubt on whether D-Wave's computers are any faster than regular machines, but while D-Wave's CEO Vern Brownell concedes that it's early days for this technology, he sees a bright future. "We're at that stage of the very first days of microprocessors, when Paul Allen and Bill Gates built the first software for those," said