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Summary:

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin is using a quantum computer to develop new radar and aircraft systems, the New York Times reports. The use cases show commercial adoption is getting closer.

Lockheed Martin is looking at several challenging applications for the quantum-computing hardware it has purchased from from D-Wave Systems, the New York Times reported Friday. The use of quantum computing is a big deal because as we depend more on computing, we’re going to need different types of processors. Lockheed’s commercial use suggests that the probabilistic problem-solving approach and breakneck speed of quantum computing could be more widely adopted in the near future.

For the record, D-Wave and Lockheed formed their commercial relationship a couple of years ago, although at the time the defense contractor apparently didn’t discuss possible applications. Now there are some specifics on how Lockheed could employ its D-Wave computer, following projections on other types of applications.

Lockheed Martin will use its D-Wave computer “to create and test complex radar, space and aircraft systems,” the Times’ Quentin Hardy wrote. “It could be possible, for example, to tell instantly how the millions of lines of software running a network satellites would react to a solar burst or a pulse from a nuclear explosion — something that can now take weeks, if ever, to determine.”

Rather than working with binary yes-or-no questions — ones and zeros — quantum computing is more probabilistic, also allowing a combination of zero and one to simultaneously answer many questions with quantum bits of information, or qubits, and tell users more about the likelihood of a situation. It’s not necessarily useful for all kinds of computing, but it could solve problems that current computers can’t.

It’s also a great way forward for computing to keep following the spirit of Moore’s Law, in the sense that it could permit more powerful computing than what’s possible today. The question is how soon it will become commercially viable. The quantum computer cost Lockheed $10 million, according to one report, so it will take some time and more commercial interest before the price can come down.

Commercial applications of quantum computing are a long time coming. In a 2010 GigaOM Research report on quantum computing (subscription required), my colleague Stacey Higginbotham wrote that commercial viability could take decades, not years.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user R.T. Wohlstadter.

  1. They should use the same quantum computer’s theories and advance mathematics to calculate random alterations that could happen to the human genome, mutations that could possible acre due to environmental governing factor’s e.g polluted water wells or unprotected sex (HIV). I think this dramatically helps increase the advancement in modern medical practises in finding practical solutions in the fight what are curable and sometimes preventable illnesses.

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  2. Dwave is not a true quantum computer. The real quantum computer utilized the qubits which consists of subatomic particles-such as spin of electrons etc. The current quantum computers do at the most find factors such as for the number 21 the quantum computers says the factors are 7 and 3. So the real quantum computers running on quantum superimposition are not ready to take the big problems yet.

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    1. mkhan: you are incorrect, it is a true quantum computer. They have published results demonstrating this in Nature, and have recently measured entanglement in their processors. It isn’t a gate model quantum computer, which is a good thing, because there aren’t any of those.

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  3. Quote:

    “A note to our readers:

    By continuing to use the site, you are agreeing to our updated Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.”

    I apologize but… I didn’t even know this site existed until about 45 seconds ago. Moreover, I don’t know that I will ever return… and considering the checkpoint to rearrange ‘Privacy Policy’, not sure I would want to, lol. Good story nonetheless.

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  4. Did anyone else find it funny the article is about quantum computers and then they post a picture of 1′s and 0′s?

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    1. Nice catch, Chris. I suppose the image search for qbits didn’t produce anything we could use :)

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  5. Jennifer Quackles Sunday, March 24, 2013

    This is great. The more people use it, the faster it will get developed.

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  6. Camilo Sanchez Sunday, March 24, 2013

    Quantum Computer = H-Bomb of information technology. I can see the arms race developing before our eyes for the first real quantum computer (assuming Lockheed’s is not one, although I think it is).

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  7. John Patrick Monday, March 25, 2013

    This is getting interesting

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  8. If I was Lockheed I think I would first use these computers to thwart cyber attacks. I would think no silicon based computer could get past a firewall using quantum computers.

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