5 Cool Things Google’s Quantum Computer Could Do

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Is there room in the world for even more computing power? Affirmative.

In the latest of what has been a series of game-changing projects, in May 2013 Google announced a joint venture with NASA and several universities to set up a quantum intelligence lab. The goal? To create sophisticated artificial intelligence. The potential outcomes, however, are much bigger and broader than that. While Google has claimed that this technology can potentially improve the firm’s search engine and Web processes, a computer this sophisticated could do more. A lot more. Here are a few cool things we might be able to expect from Google's quantum computer.

An Accurate Weather Report

Even with the advanced forecasting technology already available, meteorologists often get things wrong. However, a supercomputer’s ability to create even more complex models on real-world phenomena could help us understand our world in an unprecedented way. For example, many experts believe that Google's quantum computer (also known as the "D-Wave" after the company that created and built it) will be able to create more accurate and useful models of our weather and climate. And remember, that just doesn't mean knowing whether you should pack your umbrella; better climate models could also help experts predict disastrous weather events such as hurricanes, blizzards and unusual rainfall. (Read about how one of our writers dealt with a natural disaster in Hurricane Sandy: Why I Weathered the Storm At Barnes and Noble.

Hartmut Neven, director of engineering at Google, recently acknowledged the impact such technology would have on the way we deal with environmental issues.

"If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what’s happening to our climate," he wrote in a blog post.

The benefits of this technology aren’t limited to the climate alone. The D-Wave’s ability to create complex models could also be applied to finance, health care and national security, among many other data-intensive areas.

Quicker Web Search Operations

One of the main reasons that Google is very excited about quantum computing is that it has the potential to speed up search engine operations exponentially. That's because quantum machines are able to complete complex functions in a fraction of the time it would take a normal computer. Google plans to harness this power and use it to speed up the execution of complicated search engine operations. The supercomputer will also have the ability to store, organize and analyze data much more effectively than normal computers.


According to an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on May 16, "Conventional supercomputers may use thousands of off-the-shelf microprocessor chips, each with millions of transistors that handle bits of data represented by either a zero or a one. D-Wave, by contrast, builds its machines around a single chip composed of up to 512 elements called 'qubits,' which can represent a zero, a one or both values simultaneously."

The advancement of the quantum computer’s storage capabilities will allow users to both store information and access it much more quickly. This would be a game changer for search engine processes.

Improved Speech Recognition Technology

One of the eventual benefits of improved machine learning is that it will improve upon virtual pattern recognition. If you’ve ever been misinterpreted by an automated system or a voice recognition app such as Siri (and who hasn't?), you know that this technology still needs some work to move it from novel to useful. Google hopes to one day make machines that will be able to talk and listen more like real people.

"Our vision is the '
Star Trek' computer," Tamar Yehoshua, director of product management at Google, told Slate.com in February. "You can talk to it, it understands you, and it can have a conversation with you." (Google isn't the first to look to "Stark Trek" as a source of inspiration. Read about 6 "Star Trek" Technologies That Became a Reality.)

The supercomputer also has the potential to improve upon visual search and recognition, which could mean much smarter computers that we could interact with in a number of ways beyond voice.

Better Artificial Intelligence

The most obvious – and possibly the most exciting – prospect of the development of quantum computing is that it takes us a step closer to artificial intelligence, a phenomenon once thought to be relegated to science fiction. Until recently, the main thing that separated a computer from a human being was been the ability to recognize complex patterns and act on them. Improving machine learning begins the process of closing that gap. Having smarter machines means having machines that can do more for us and our quality of life. For example, Google is currently working on self-driving vehicles that are expected to be on the market in the next few years. This smart technology could reduce traffic accidents, improve traffic flow and, ultimately, save lives. Because computers are used to control some of our most vital systems, improving the intelligence of these machines is the logical next step. (Read more about what the future might hold in Will Computers Be Able to Imitate the Human Brain?)

Faster Problem Solving

Proponents of quantum technology believe that the D-Wave will be able to achieve speeds of up to 3,600 times that of a conventional computer. In fact, experts claims that in some cases, the computer is able to perform tasks as much as 11,000 times faster than a conventional computer. This kind of speed would represent a new era of capability that is quite unprecedented, and would certainly improve the efficiency of countless computer-run systems, including air traffic control, electric grids and satellite technologies, to name a few.

While the quantum computer is still in its developing stages, the potential it has to improve computer performance – and perhaps the world – is worth getting excited about. It's hard to say exactly what advancements the D-Wave will bring, but is there room in the world for even more computing power? Affirmative.


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John Okoye
John Okoye

Originally from New Jersey, John Okoye moved to New York City at the age of 17, where he attended New York University. After receiving a bachelor's degree in economics, Okoye quickly found his calling in writing. He has spent many years writing and editing articles for various online magazines, publications and blogs.