Quantum computing. Quantum software. For most regular folks, these terms are enough to bring on a headache. Because math is hard enough. But quantum computing is on an entirely different level. And right now, only computer programmers and developers who have studied about quantum physics or advanced math can probably relate to what we are writing about. But that’s okay. This is what this news is supposed to change.
Hoping to help push the field of quantum computing forward, D-Wave — a small Canadian company that makes quantum computers and which by the way is backed by the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, NASA, and the CIA among others — has decided to release an open-source quantum software tool for the whole world to use. It’s called qbsolv and through it, coders and program developers will have the chance to program D-Wave’s quantum machines, even if they don’t actually have the expertise or skill to do quantum programming on their own.
But let’s back up a little. What exactly are quantum computers? The short-version — these are super-powerful computers that use quantum mechanics to process and store data. In contrast with conventional computers (like what we’re all using right now) which store information in ‘bits’ that are represented by either ‘1’ or ‘0’, quantum computers use what is referred to as ‘quantum superposition’ to store information in ‘qubits’, short for quantum bits. Qubits are like super versions of ‘bits’ because they can spin in two directions simultaneously, enabling them to represent both ‘1’ and ‘0’ at the same time.
Yes, it’s complicated as it is. But there’s more. Achieving ‘superposition’ is difficult enough. Sustaining ‘superposition’ is way more difficult. Many have been attempting to solve this, and D-Wave has succeeded in a way. But, their success is quite limited — they can only sustain this ‘superposition’ in extreme environments and only under special conditions. In other words, only a privileged few — those who actually have the necessary educational background — can use quantum computers.
This is what D-Wave intends to change. By letting everyone, regardless of their educational background, have access to qbsolv, the company is hoping to encourage more people to join in on quantum computing.
But that’s just one side to it. To be able to run qbsolv, you would need the corresponding hardware, meaning, you would need a quantum computer, just like those that D-Wave has. Because there are only a few who have access to such, D-Wave has come up with a simulator which people can download so it can be used to run qbsolv, and hopefully solve a wider variety of complex problems by using quantum computers that can perform even faster.
Right now, qbsolv is being used to solve large optimization problems — calculating the best or most optimal solution from a variety of options. Qbsolv works by breaking the problems into smaller sections, running these sections independently on D-Wave’s quantum processor, then recombining the individual answers into one final solution.
According to users, qbsolv is capable of solving problems twenty times larger than what a D-Wave processor without qbsolv can. And so far, it has already been used to figure out better ways to split molecules for more in-depth study, as well as to find faster ways to solve gene sequencing problems. But that’s only scratching the surface, so to speak.
By getting more people involved, quantum computing will stand a better chance of developing and progressing to the point where it can make a significant and meaningful impact on a global scale. Maybe help solve problems associated with AI development or help figure out solutions to global warming?
This is the primary rationale behind D-Wave’s outsourcing initiative. Two heads are better than one, right? And more heads is even better. But ultimately, the goal of companies like D-Wave, Imec, IBM, Google Labs, Microsoft Labs and many other top computer makers is a ‘universal quantum computer’ — otherwise referred to as a device that could solve any computational problem with varying degrees of success — that unlike today’s supercomputers can solve problems in the blink-of-an-eye instead of hours or days. And that would be nothing short of a massive technological achievement.