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Is quantum computing real?

Julie Sartain | Sept. 25, 2011
Significant roadblocks are causing some to question whether quantum computing will ever make it out of the lab.

According to Gildert, one very important real-world application is in the field of medical diagnosis. It's possible to write a program that applies hand-coded rules to X-ray or MRI images to try and detect whether there is a tumor in the image. But current software can only perform as well as the expert doctors' knowledge regarding what to look for in those images. With learning software, the program is shown examples of X-rays or MRI scans with and without tumors, then it learns the differences itself without having to be told. With this technology, the computer can even detect anomalies that a doctor cannot see or might not even notice. And the more examples you show it, the better it gets at this task.

"It is unlikely that QCs will replace desktop machines any time soon," Gildert says. "In terms of years, it depends on the effort invested, available funding, and the people working on the problem. The logical assumption is that these machines will be cloud-based co-processors for existing data centers used by companies that have very difficult problems to solve. Quantum systems are very good at solving a specific class of hard problems in the fields of AI and machine learning, so we are concentrating on building tools that help introduce the potentials of quantum computing to the people who work in these areas."

Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect360 Research, an analyst firm specializing in high performance computing, says, "Quantum computing is still of interest primarily among government and defense research labs. And, while the principles of quantum computing have been described for years, it is a wholly new paradigm, and the number of applications it will work for, even theoretically at this point, is small. However, some of these applications could be relevant to national security, so a high degree of interest remains."

"Quantum computing is certainly 'on the radar' of IBM, HP, and other supercomputing vendors, but it is difficult to say how many engineers they have working on this technology. At this point, it is uncertain whether quantum computing will ever have any role beyond a small handful of boutique supercomputing installations; but if or when it does, it is not likely we'll see commercially available working systems within the next five years."

"That depends what you mean by working systems," Stamp adds. "If you believe D-Wave, we already have one system commercially available now. I think that for a genuine quantum computer, we may be talking about 10 years for something that a very big company can buy and 25 to 30 years for the ordinary consumer."

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