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Quantum computing research carries on at Google and NASA

September 28, 2015, 1:02 PM UTC
Courtesy of D-Wave Systems

The quest for an entirely new type of computer will continue at NASA’s Ames Research Center, which is nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley. The space agency, along with Google (GOOG) and the Universities Space Research Association, has renewed its contract with D-Wave, a Canadian manufacturer of quantum computers, to install quantum computing systems at the research center.

Google, NASA, and the USRA hope quantum computing will help them make leaps in fields such as artificial intelligence, which can theoretically benefit from the way that quantum computers work. Google is working on improving its search engine, speech recognition, and other capabilities through this research, while NASA is exploring uses such as better mission-control support and unmanned space missions.

The idea is that, rather than performing relatively simple operations like standard computers and algorithms, quantum computers will be able to solve complex problems around systems optimization and figure out ways that many moving parts relate and affect another. D-Wave’s systems have not been without controversy—some question whether they really perform quantum computing at all—but early results suggest Google and NASA are making progress on their research nonetheless.

According to a D-Wave press release, “The new agreement enables Google and its partners to keep their D-Wave system at the state-of-the-art for up to seven years, with new generations of D-Wave systems to be installed at NASA Ames as they become available.”

However, that will be far from the only commercial quantum computing research happening during that time. Google is also working on different types of quantum computing technologies being built in-house, and chipmaker Intel (INTC) just announced a $50 million investment to work on the electronic systems that support quantum computing. Among the unique technology challenges of quantum computers is that they must currently be housed at a temperature near absolute zero in order to work.

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