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D-Wave Processor May Actually Employ Quantum Mechanics: Quantum Annealing

First Posted: Jul 02, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

There's been a lot of talk about the D-Wave processor housed at the USC-Lockheed Marin Quantum Computing Center. Some have remained skeptical of the fact that the computer actually employs quantum effects. Yet new research has now revealed that this computer may be all that its creators claim it to be; scientists have discovered that the D-Wave processor behaves in a manner that indicates that quantum mechanics has a functional role in the way it works.

In this latest study, the researchers found that the D-Wave processor cannot be doing classical simulated annealing. Annealing is the process by which a physical system slowly relaxes, arranging itself so that it has the lowest possible amount of energy, called the ground state. This process can also be simulated using a computer; yet this simulated annealing is actually no faster than any other classical mechanism for calculating solutions to problems, according to ArsTechnica. Therefore, if the D-Wave were using simulated annealing, it wouldn't truly be more useful.

"Using a specific test problem involving eight qubits we have verified that D-Wave processor performs optimization calculations (that is, finds lowest energy solutions) using a procedure that is consistent with quantum annealing and is inconsistent with the predictions of classical annealing," said Daniel Lidar, scientific director of the Quantum Computing Center, in an interview with TGDaily.

Currently, the computer is mainly good for one thing: doing physics experiments to try to understand the machine. Yet the fact that it demonstrates annealing behavior means that it does hold the potential to be a veritable powerhouse in the computing world. That's not to say that it doesn't face its challenges.

"First, it will have to be able to outperform classical computers as one increases the problem size," said Matthias Troyer, a professor at Switzerland's Institute of Theoretical Physics, in an interview with The Register. "Work on investigating this in progress. If the increase of time to solution with problem size should be slower than for classical computers then the device might be useful at some point."

The recent findings are published in the journal Nature.

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