Quantum mechanics can be one of the most difficult concepts for physicists to explain to laypeople, but explaining the function and purpose of a quantum computer, like the one built by Google and NASA, sounds impossible. Thankfully, Google released a YouTube video to help explain what is happening in the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab.
The video features researchers from NASA, Google and D-Wave, a Canadian quantum computing company that built the computer, the D-Wave Two. After a cursory definition of quantum theory, the researchers explain that a quantum computer calculates in terms of ones, zeros and a combination of the two. This gives a quantum computer a huge power advantage over a traditional computer, which is limited to a linear processing of just ones and zeroes.
What this means is that a computer can determine several possible outcomes simultaneously. Google, NASA and D-Wave explain that one of the biggest advantages will be the ability to solve optimization problems.
Consider, for example, that you’re planning a trip to South America. You want to visit 10 different cities by spending the least amount money. There are hundreds of factors that come into play, including routes, Airlines and food, just to name a few. A traditional computer would have to go through all and attempt to find the best answer, a process that one of the researchers in the video said would be impossible even with every Google server working together.
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But a quantum computer would have no problem. It could also make huge strides in helping us understand weather patterns, solve physics puzzles and, perhaps most importantly, creating advanced artificial intelligence.
Not even the government shutdown is stopping the quantum computer. Although the NASA Ames Research Center, which houses the D-Wave Two quantum computer, closed down with the rest of the federal government, it was deemed too expensive to turn off and be recalibrated when the government returns.
So although NASA can’t use the D-Wave Two, the quantum computer is alive and running. Google could theoretically be using it, but a spokesperson wouldn’t confirm that it was.
Even with the helpful YouTube video, quantum computing is still pretty hard to wrap your head around. Even the researchers will be figuring out what exactly they can do with the machine.
“Who was it that said, ‘If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics?’” a member of team named Jason said to open the video.
It was Richard Feynman, a quantum theorist, and the team of Google and NASA may find out how right he was.