Google and NASA buy a quantum computer, to research more intelligent AI
The new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab (QAIL), housed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and staffed by Google and NASA scientists, has become the second lab in the world to own a quantum computer. As the name suggests, the Google and NASA scientists will use the quantum computer to advance machine learning — a field of AI that deals with computers that autonomously optimize their behavior as they garner more experience.
The new lab will be outfitted with a D-Wave Two — a 512-qubit machine that costs in the region of $15 million. Prior to QAIL taking delivery of the cryogenically cooled quantum computer, Lockheed Martin was the first and only owner of a D-Wave One in 2011, and then recently it upgraded to a D-Wave Two. There is still some debate over whether D-Wave’s machines are actually quantum computers, but at least for a small set of specialized functions, most critics have acquiesced. Before stumping up the cash for the D-Wave Two, NASA, Google, and the USRA (Universities Space Research Association) ran some benchmarks to confirm that the quantum computer actually offers a speed boost over conventional supercomputers — and it passed.
The new lab, which will be situated at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Facility at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, will be operated by NASA, Google, and the USRA. NASA and Google will each get 40% of the system’s computing time, with the remaining 20% being divvied up by the USRA to researchers based at American universities. NASA and Google will primarily use the quantum computer to advance a branch of artificial intelligence called machine learning, which is tasked with developing algorithms that optimize themselves with experience. For example, a robotic vacuum cleaner such as the Roomba might use machine learning to learn the layout of your room, and then optimize its route to clean the room as quickly as possible, while using as little power as possible and avoiding any obstacles. Optimization happens is one of few areas that D-Wave’s quantum annealing (adiabatic) qubits excel at.
As for what specific machine learning tasks NASA and Google actually have in mind, we can only guess. NASA might be interested in optimizing flight paths to other planets, or devising a safer/better/faster landing procedure for the next Mars rover. The core of many of Google’s products is optimization: From search, to advertising, to displaying relevant updates in your Google+ feed, to self-driving cars — there are complex, AI algorithms underpinning them all. Of all the companies and institutions in the world that could’ve acquired a quantum computer, NASA and Google are probably the most exciting. We now have some of the brightest minds in the world working with a quantum computer, to forward the field of artificial intelligence. This is a very exciting development indeed.[divider]
By Sebastian Anthony | ExtremeTech