Although we’ll have to wait to discover what innovations Google’s secret “X lab” holds for the future, the company does have at least one bleeding-edge venture it wants to unveil to the public right now. In partnership with NASA, Google has embarked on a project to use a 512-qubit D-Wave Two quantum computer to tackle some of our biggest computational problems.
And because visuals often help explain complex concepts, Google has posted a short documentary explaining what quantum computing is, and how it plans to use the technology to make new discoveries.
First announced back in May, Google’s partnership with NASA will allow the two teams — along with several universities — to share the powerful computer, so they can research several different areas.
Traditional digital computing – which drives the computer you’re using now — operates using a binary approach, which on a basic level refers to differentiating bits of data in their 1 and 0 states from one another.
Quantum computing differs from digital computing in that it gives researchers the power to put bits of data into their 0 and 1 states simultaneously, rather than cycling through calculations in a linear fashion as is common with traditional digital computers. The potential applications for quantum computing could advance our understanding of weather patterns, theoretical physics and even artificial intelligence.
This new computing dynamic not only gives scientists the ability to determine a variety of possible solutions simultaneously, but it also saves energy and speeds up the computing process by many orders of magnitude.
For Google in particular, quantum computing could help it make advances in search, neural networking and artificial intelligence. These advances will ultimately help the company achieve its goal of being able to tell you what you want before you even ask it.
Of course, this very general description of quantum computing is still bit too much for some of us — still making our way through the tangle of traditional computing — to fully grasp. That’s why Google’s new video is a welcome primer on the topic, offering a set of very simple and entertaining explanations on the technology.
While the NASA partnership presents exciting possibilities for harnessing the new technology, Google has been looking at quantum computing for some time. As early as 2009, Google discussed its research work with quantum-computing company D-Wave, which was related to studying machine-learning with quantum algorithms.
At the time, Google’s Hartmut Neven wrote, “Over the past three years, a team at Google has studied how problems such as recognizing an object in an image or learning to make an optimal decision based on example data can be made amenable to solution by quantum algorithms … These algorithms promise to find higher-quality solutions for optimization problems than obtainable with classical solvers.”
The field of quantum computing is still so new that even researchers aren’t exactly sure of what they’ll learn over the next few years; it's what makes the project even more exciting.
Posting a message to Google+, the Google Quantum A.I. Lab team wrote, “We’re still in the early, early days, but we think quantum computing can help solve some of the world’s most challenging computer-science problems.
"We’re particularly interested in how quantum computing can advance machine learning, which can then be applied to virtually any field: from finding the cure for a disease to understanding changes in our climate.”