As a concept, quantum computing is one of those topics that generates far more debate than actual usage. Not only are there quarrels about the applicability of different types of approaches to quantum computing; there’s still a fair amount of debate over whether quantum computing applications will prove to be all that much faster than conventional computing applications.
Traditional computers encode data binary digits known as bits. Quantum computers uses quantum properties to represent data and perform operations on what are known as qubits. D-Wave Systems, in conjunction with Google, NASA and the Universities Space Research Association, is currently testing the D-Wave Two, a system based on a 512-qubit processor chip.
D-Wave Systems CEO Vern Brownell says the thing that differentiates D-Wave Systems as a commercial entity is that it pursued a quantum annealing approach to quantum computing. Quantum annealing allows D-Wave to leverage traditional silicon processors. In contrast, other approaches to building quantum computing systems have as not been able to make it beyond the lab.
None of this means the D-Wave Two is a guaranteed to be a commercial success, but Brownell says that once the viability of the D-Wave Two is proven, most developers will be exposed to quantum computing as a cloud service they invoke through an API. Right now, quantum computing applications are built using a very low-level language. But given the cost of a D-Wave Two quantum computer, few organizations will be able to afford one. Brownell says he envisions a world where a few cloud service providers or universities with the appropriate financial wherewithal will make quantum computing available as a programmable service.
He concedes that we are still quite a few years from seeing that happen. But one of the primary benefits of living in the programmable age of the cloud is that breakthroughs such as quantum computing systems become more readily accessible to developers. In fact, the strategy that Brownell envisions for making quantum computing accessible to developers is not much different than the strategy IBM is adopting in terms of making the IBM Watson supercomputer available as a service to developers looking to create cognitive computing applications.
Obviously, supercomputers based on quantum theories have not achieved the same level of acceptance as IBM Watson. But going forward, developers should take some comfort knowing that, in the age of the cloud, they might not have to actually buy a supercomputer before they get to play with one.