On Wednesday, D-Wave Systems made history by announcing the sale of the world's first commercial quantum computer. The buyer was Lockheed Martin Corporation, who will use the machine to help solve some of their "most challenging computation problems." Lockheed purchased the system, known as D-Wave One, as well as maintenance and associated professional services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
D-Wave One uses a superconducting 128-qubit (quantum bit) chip, called Rainier, representing the first commercial implementation of a quantum processor. An early prototype, a 16-qubit system called Orion, was demonstrated in February 2007. At the time, D-Wave was talking about future systems based on 512-qubit and 1024-qubit technology, but the 128-qubit Rainier turned out to be the company's first foray into the commercial market.
According to D-Wave co-founder and CTO Geordie Rose, D-Wave One, the technology uses a method called "quantum annealing" to solve discrete optimization problems. While that may sound obscure, it applies to all sorts of artificial intelligence-type applications such as natural language processing, computer vision, bioinformatics, financial risk analysis, and other types of highly complex pattern matching.
As the subsequent interview with Geordie Rose reveals, proof that quantum computing is actually being undertaken by the chip was demonstrated in a Nature paper recently (£); further, Google—whose engineers worked with D-Wave on some of the software components—have also published some information on how the system has been used.
All of this is pretty impressive, but don't expect such technology to come to the consumer market in the near future: in operation the machine needs some 15 kilowatts of energy—not least because the chip needs to operate at near absolute zero—and the box's footprint is about 100 square feet!
Still, it's good to see that such mind-boggling technology can be produced—and by the private sector too*...
UPDATE: Counting Cats comments on this development in terms of its application to cryptography.
* Yes, this is a dig at all those idiots who think that only governments can invest ton of cash into scientific research.