Saturday, June 15, 2013

D-Wave Quantum Computing

Catherine McGeoch, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Computer Science) at Amherst and author of A Guide to Experimental Algorithmics (Cambridge University Press, 2012), recently announced experiments to test the speed of a D-wave quantum computing system against conventional computing methods. To McGeoch’s knowledge, her experiment was the first to compare the quantum approach to conventional methods using the same set of problems, comparable in difficulty to the so-called “traveling salesperson” problem that’s been a foundation of theoretical computing for decades. Briefly, the problem asks: Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the original city? Problems of this type apply to shipping logistics, flight scheduling, search optimization, DNA analysis and encryption, and so on. According to McGeoch, D-wave computation is not intended for surfing the net but may have great potential in solving this narrow band of problems fairly quickly. (Fortunately, my brain hasn’t been called upon to solve any of these types of problems . . . Smile.)

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