The standard computer works with a series of basic units called
bits that can be either 1s or 0s: They signify on and off, yes and
no. It is binary code, and until now it has been the basic language
Technology is, of course, always accelerating onward, but since the
birth of computing, the underlying binary code language has been
standard to the majority of machines. This may be about to change.
Ready to make yet-unknown leaps into the future of technology,
quantum computing, a benefactor of decades of quantum theory
research, has arrived. As compared to standard computing, where
either be a 0 or a 1, in quantum computing, the basic units of
data, called qubits, can be either 1, 0, or anywhere in between in
what is called in quantum mechanics a
. Moreover, the value of a qubit can change when grouped with other
qubits, or when observed by scientists. (Click
for a more thorough explanation of a qubit.) The potential is
almost endless, but for now scientists are still mostly
contemplating uses for this new way of computing.
When business becomes involved, theory has a way of becoming
reality: Corporations are beginning to buy quantum machines.
Yesterday, NASA and
) announced they were co-purchasing a quantum computer, from a
little-known Canadian company called D-Wave.
The 12-year-old firm based near Vancouver, BC, has received venture
) Jeff Bezos,
), and In-Q-Tel (an investment firm with ties to the CIA), and is
the first to offer quantum computers for commercial use, with a
price tag of about $15 million. D-Wave sold its first machine to
global aerospace and security company
) about two years ago, and the company recently announced it would
be upgrading the technology from experimental to commercial use.
Not only are the machines expensive, but so is their upkeep:
D-Wave's computer employs a pulse fridge that uses Helium-3 to
maintain a steady state of .02 degrees above absolute zero. If not
kept super chilled, the molecules that the computer manipulates
would move around too chaotically to be properly analyzed.
Now, Google and NASA have followed suit: Among the many realistic
and imaginative ideas the company has for its new technology,
Google wants to improve search, especially for images, but also
hopes to make leaps and bounds in improving machine learning and
artificial intelligence. NASA intends to use the machine to
optimize its search for planets, especially Earth-like ones,
outside of our solar system.
Additionally, Google and NASA will split their quantum computer
contract with the Universities Space Research Association.
Universities will claim 20% of the computer's use, with research
teams competing to work their proposal on the machine, which will
be located at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field,
California, exactly 2.5 miles away from Google's headquarters in
Mountain View. The computer is expected to go online in the third
quarter of 2013.
In a statement on the deal, Google said, "We hope it helps
researchers construct more efficient, effective models for
everything from speech recognition, to Web search, to protein
folding." From improving its search functionality to literally
investigating (and perhaps replicating) the way that cells
function, Google's approach to the quantum computer seems wide and
But one man at Google definitely has a specific vision. As Greg
wrote, "In many ways, the Google-NASA partnership represents a new
Manhattan Project, but instead of the aim being a nuclear
explosion, the goal is to simulate the human brain, a feat that
Google's Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, believes will be
completed before the end of the next decade."
Kurzweil is one of the world's leading experts on artificial
intelligence, and with his position at Google, he has a great deal
of freedom to direct the company's $6.7 billion research and
development budget towards A.I., and towards calculations and
problem-solving that only a machine as sophisticated as a quantum
computer could handle. Kurzweil is the author of seven books,
The Age of Spiritual Machine
The Singularity Is Near
, in which he addresses, among other elements of artificial
intelligence, an event called "the singularity."
"The singularity" is the term for the theoretical emergence of
technological superintelligence, when computer intelligence and
human intelligence reach equilibrium and become inseparable.
Moreover, many believe computer superintelligence would quickly and
handily surpass human intelligence. The scientists and theorists
who believe the singularity is coming, Kurzweil being prominent
among them, project the event happening within a general range of
2030 to 2070.
There is a lot to be read about the singularity, about quantum
computing, and about quantum mechanics for that matter, but for the
purposes of this story, the takeaway is this: Google has given an
important job with a great deal of responsibility to a man who
believes 100% that, within less than a century, machines will have
intelligence equal to or greater than that of the most intelligent
human being. Kurzweil will have direct access to the Ames Research
Center quantum computer, as well as Google's deep pockets, in order
to explore and develop artificial intelligence.
Lockheed Martin, Google, and NASA are dipping their toes into this
untested new technology, so which industries will be next? As
D-Wave has received funding from Goldman Sachs and Jeff Bezos, it's
possible banking and online retail will see a quantum leap sometime
soon. Though this remains to be seen, it is safe to say that a wide
array of companies are paying attention to Google and NASA's
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