Google’s cloud quantum computing dreams: Real deal or pie in the sky?

Could cloud quantum computing be possible? Google wants to make it happen, although there are some who doubt it will happen anytime soon.

Potential benefits of quantum computing

Quantum computing could be a large step above the computers we typically use today. They are made up of quantum bits, or qubits, that not only process information as ones or zeros, but also any state in between.

It uses this mechanism to solve problems and attempt to work more quickly than previously possible. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t given us a fully functional, available quantum computer yet.

However, its future potential means that, according to Jerry Chow, a member of IBM’s experimental quantum computing department, “at 50 qubits, universal quantum computing would reach that inflection point and be able to solve problems existing computers can’t handle.” This future might be closer than we think. IBM has plans to construct and distribute this 50-qubit system within the next few years, while Google is projecting that they’ll complete a 49-qubit system by the end of this year.

One of the real-life uses of quantum computing is for pharmaceutical science. Right now, there’s a struggle when it comes to understanding how each structure bonds together. It takes complex computer simulations to understand the atomic and subatomic motion when creating new drugs. Solving this could result in lower-cost and better drugs.

Scott Crowder from IBM explained that “you don’t even ask those questions on a classical computer because you know you’re going to get it wrong.” Once quantum computing hits its prime, though, medicine can potentially be made much more quickly and at much lower prices.

Another problem solved with quantum computing is one that you wouldn’t expect: fertilizer production, according to computing sciences fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Jarrod McClean.

Just making “mass-produced fertilizer accounts for one percent to two percent of the world’s energy use per year.” However, there is a much more energy-efficient option.

The problem, according to McClean, is that “it’s been too challenging for classical systems to date” to help researchers create this energy-efficient option in the lab, but he has high hopes for quantum computers’ abilities in the near future to accomplish it.

And, the application doesn’t have to be revolutionary to be helpful. In fact, these computers could help organize delivery routes, especially during particularly busy times like Christmas, by organizing thousands of self-driving cars (assuming they will be commonly used in the future). Quantum computers could also help translation software or other small, but productive uses.

The potential of quantum computing is almost endless, from finance to economy to energy. It is beginning to become available to certain people right now and is expected to become more mainstream soon (although there are debates about when, exactly). But can Google bring it to the cloud?

What is Google doing

cloud quantum computingWhile Google has been working on quantum computing for years, they’ve just recently started looking at how to turn it into a business.

In fact, Google has already started offering “science labs and artificial intelligence researchers early access to its quantum machines over the Internet in recent months.” Their motivation, according to Bloomberg, for giving this early access is so the research will build more tools to go with this technology, helping to make their cloud quantum computing service as fast and powerful as possible.

Google is also considering a ProjectQ, or “an open-source effort to get developers to write code for quantum computers.” According to a quantum computing researcher at Stanford University, Google is not trying to hide that “they’re building quantum hardware and they would, at some point in the future, make it a cloud service.”

Additionally, according to scientist Jonathan DuBois at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Google “pledged that government and academic researchers would get free access.”

While there’s still quite a bit of debate about when quantum computers will actually be usable, Google’s efforts could skyrocket them to the top of the ongoing cloud wars. If what many companies are predicting, processing tasks could become millions of times faster.

Offering cloud quantum computing is an extremely smart business decision, considering that these computers are very large and hard to contain so very few companies could have them themselves.

As of right now, Google rents storage by the minute, so if their quantum computers can cut the compute time by such a large percentage, they would have a huge price advantage over the competition. Google’s cloud compute prices are currently higher than Amazon’s and Microsoft’s for most instances.

Unfortunately, though, we may be getting ahead of ourselves. Seth Lloyd, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that useful applications won’t arrive until a system has at least 100 qubits, although, other researchers and organizations seem to disagree.

The competition

cloud quantum computing
Wikimedia

While Google announced their quantum computing efforts back in 2014, they claimed that they would prove their “supremacy” by performing equal to or better than supercomputers by the end of 2017.

Of course, though, Google isn’t the only one going after quantum computers. IBM already offers access to their specialized quantum computing platform and plans to create a 50-qubit quantum system within the next five years. This past May, they added a 17 qubit prototype quantum processor to their service as well, although it’s still in its experimental phase.

IBM is also working on a universal quantum computer for corporate users, and Microsoft is working towards this as well.

The future of cloud quantum computing

Chad Rigetti, founder of Rigetti Computing, which has netted over $69 million from investors for quantum computing software and equipment, believes that quantum computing will become as popular as AI is now, although he isn’t sure exactly when.

“This industry is very much in its infancy,” Rigetti said. “No one has built a quantum computer that works.”

Hopefully, the future of cloud quantum computing will be here sooner rather than later. Scientists believe that its applications are almost endless, from “improving the work of solar panels, creating medicines, and even fertilizers.”

With the numerous applications, faster speeds, and potentially lower prices, cloud quantum computing could revolutionize technology.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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