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Possible Quantum Computer Is "Really, Really Fast" Compared To Conventional Computing

May 09, 2013 01:16 PM EDT

D-Wave’s self-proclaimed quantum computer is, in the words of Amherst College's Catherine McGeogh, "in some cases, really, really fast."

McGeoch, a computer science professor, recently devised and conducted experiments to test the speed of the possible quantum computing system against conventional computing methods in order to come up with her conclusion.

The D-Wave system McGeogh used to run the study contains a thumbnail-sized chip stored in a dilution refrigerator within a shielded cabinet at near absolute zero that, based on her findings, is capable of solving problems thousands of times faster than conventional computing.

“You think you’re in Dr. Seuss land,” she said. “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.”

In particular, McGeogh says the calculations the D-Wave system, which its makers are heralding as the first of its kind to become commercially available, excels at involve a specific combinatorial optimization problem comparable in difficulty to the famous “travelling salesperson” problem that, when applied, affects everything from shipping logistics to DNA analysis and encryption and has plagued the foundation of theorectical computing for decades.

It’s precisely in this area, McGeogh reports, that device really shines.

What she does not weigh in on, however, is whether or not the D-Wave machine is what it claims to be.

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

Ultimately, McGeogh specifies that her study “by no means settles the question of how fast the quantum computer is,” explaining that she is not “claiming that this is the last word, but it’s a first word.”

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