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NASA and Google team up to buy into quantumish computing

Hoping to crack machine-learning conundrum

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A consortium of researchers from Google and NASA are planning to crack the issue of machine learning with a $15m quantum computer that will form the basis of a new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab.

The new facility, which will be sited at Silicon Valley's NASA Ames Research Center, will host a 10 square meter shielded room which will contain a D-Wave quantum processing machine – a superconducting 512-qubit processor chip cooled to 20 millikelvin which will be upgraded to 2,048 qubits once the hardware becomes available.

"We believe quantum computing may help solve some of the most challenging computer science problems, particularly in machine learning," said Hartmut Neven, Google's director of engineering, in a blog post.

"Machine learning is all about building better models of the world to make more accurate predictions. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what's on the web so you get the best answer."

As El Reg has pointed out, the D-Wave machine isn't, strictly speaking, a quantum computer of the type that could be used to crack the world's encryption systems. Rather it uses quantum effects to massively speed up the processing and optimization of data.

Neven said that Google has already tried some machine-learning problems out on the machine and has developed a compact, low-power recognizer for mobile phones and sorting through some highly polluted datasets.

Meanwhile, NASA wants to use the system to examine data from the potentially doomed Kepler telescope to find exoplanets across the universe. In addition, 20 per cent of the system's runtime will go to the Universities Space Research Association for other tasks.

"The order for a D-Wave Two system for the initiative launched by NASA, Google and USRA attests to the revolutionary potential of this fundamentally different approach to computing for both industry and government," said Steve Conway, IDC research vice president for high-performance computing.

"HPC buyers and users are looking for ways to speed up their applications beyond what contemporary technologies can deliver," Conway said. "IDC believes organizations that depend on leading-edge technology would do well to begin exploring the possibilities for quantum computing." ®

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