I’m sure 2011 will eventually go down in history as the year of the release of the groundbreaking film Cowboys & Aliens, but it has to be said that it was also the year that the first commercial quantum computer officially went online.
It’s debatable whether Daniel Craig’s role as an alien-fighting amnesiac gold thief deserves such praise, but there’s no doubt that D-Wave is a true pioneer in the world of quantum computing.
Dubbed the “D-Wave One” (two years before the Xbox One gaming system came out), the company’s first production model was a quantum glow system designed to address optimization issues.
Over a decade later, the company is working on “Vorteil Zwei”. Not counting prototypes, it will be the outfit sixth large quantum computer system.
Advantage Two will be a quantum glow system with a whopping 7,000 working qubits.
That’s a lot of qubits
To people who’ve been following the news about quantum computing, the number “7,000 working qubits” might seem like a typo. The largest gate-based model known to us is QuEra’s 256-qubit neutral atomic system.
However, D-Wave’s system uses a different technology.
As Rebel Brown, a marketer whose blog I happened upon, explains quite eloquently:
One way to understand the difference between the two types of quantum computers is that the gate model quantum computers require problems to be expressed in terms of quantum gates, and the quantum glow computer requires problems to be expressed in the language of operations research problems .
But don’t just take Brown’s word for it. The two types of quantum computers are as different as night and day. Where gate-based models are still more research than function, D-Wave’s annealing systems have been solving problems for decades.
As Murray Thom, VP of Product Management at D-Wave, put it in a recent interview with Neural:
Our focus is 100% on commercial use cases and the added value for our customers.
And that means using quantum computing to provide solutions at the moment. Quantum annealing does this because, as Thom told us, “it’s really the only way to address optimization problems.”
The right tool for the job
However, there are more than just optimization problems that need to be solved. For example, Advantage Two should be able to help medical facilities optimize nurse and doctor schedules across large geographic areas during disasters and outbreaks.
But it won’t be as useful as a gate-based quantum computer when it comes to running quantum simulations for challenging problems like drug discovery.
Ideally, you can use both. But gate-based systems are experimental at best. Until recently, with the launch of its Clarity roadmap, D-Wave was content to be a quantum anneal company on the street and a state-of-the-art research organization in the lab.
“We feel the time is now.”
That all changed last year when D-Wave unveiled its ambitions to combine gate-based technologies with annealing systems using cloud-based portals and bespoke software solutions.
Thom tells us that D-Wave believes now is the time. Not just for its own shareholders (the company is going public), but for the entire industry.
According to Thomas:
From 2017-2018 to now, there’s been this explosion in… quantum computing tools and human access to them. This next phase will be the rapid expansion point.
The quantum computing market is expected to triple over the next three years. While there is certainly room for everyone, not all market shares are equal.
D-Wave has already secured its position at the forefront of quantum optimization solutions. Adding gate-based systems through separate or integrated stacks could potentially offer its customers the world’s only one-stop shop for spooky remote actions as a service.
Neural’s opinion: It will be interesting to see if D-Wave’s ambition and experience can overcome Google’s hunger and bankroll or IBM’s sheer tenacity when it comes to gaining an advantage in this space.
At the end of the day, a rising tide lifts all ships. We’re probably further from quantum computing companies competing for customers than from useful gate-based systems. At least for now, there are many quantum problems to be solved.