D-Wave's latest quantum demo on for SC07, scientists skeptical

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News.com reported on Friday that quantum computer startup D-Wave Systems (on whom we’ve previously reported; e.g. here and here) is gearing up for an image processing demo at SC07 on Monday

During a session at the SC07 supercomputing conference in Reno, Nev., Hartmut Neven, a Google specialist in image recognition, will show an image recognition algorithm running on a device, made by start-up D-Wave Systems, which is claimed to be the first practical quantum computer.

This claim is made by the company’s principals (who may be biased); the company has been under some pressure from the scientific community since its demonstration in February of this year to subject its hardware to peer review

D-Wave is the only commercial quantum computing company, having raised $44 million from partners, including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, GrowthWorks, BDC Venture Capital, Harris & Harris Group, and British Columbia Investment Management. It demonstrated a 16-qubit computer, called Orion, in February, but scientists have been skeptical that D-Wave demonstrated true quantum computing, as no results have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

“Over the last year, rather than answering scientists’ questions about what, if anything, they’ve actually done that’s novel, they seem to have descended ever further into the lowest kind of hucksterism,” said Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Orion is probably a classical computer, according to Aaronson. “They apparently built a device with 16 very noisy superconducting quantum bits,” he said in a talk given at Google’s offices in the summer. Noisy qubits let information into the system and behave like classical bits, said Aaronson.

The company, for its part, says “pfft”

D-Wave has not had its system externally validated, said [D-Wave’s chief technology officer, Geordie Rose], because “there is only one meaningful measure of validation for a technology like this: does it outperform the systems people are using today in a metric that they care about? We are getting very close to achieving this objective.”


  1. Is this demonstration going to perform a function that a classical computer cannot, such as solve bounded error, quantum, polynomial time problems?

  2. Jeff – that’s not clear, though we may find out more at the conference. If it doesn’t it’s not going to do much to allay concerns about the significance of the development.

  3. Yes, one has to wonder why they would even bother doing a demo for anything that can be simulated by a classical computer.

    One interesting thing to note is that they appear be allowing people to program the computer from within their booth at the conference. I am curious what methods they use for sending instructions to the computer. I would have no idea where to start writing a program for a quantum computer.