Quantum computers will leave Moore’s Law far, far behind

Vern Brownell, President and CEO, D-Wave Systems, speaks at Structure Data 2014.

Classical computers are only as good as the number of transistors they have. According to Moore’s Law, that number doubles every two years.

That pace may soon slow, but there’s an alternative: quantum computing, which relies not on transistors but on particles to perform calculations much more quickly. Speaking at the Gigaom Structure Data conference Wednesday, D-Wave Systems president and CEO Vern Brownell said that many of the major computing breakthroughs over the next decade will be dedicated to quantum computing, and computers will improve much more rapidly than the world is used to seeing.

“You will see many orders of magnitude improvement on each generation, rather than the 2X or 5X that we typically see in classical computing,” Brownell said.

D-Wave has sold computing systems to Google and Lockheed Martin, but it is not yet ready to fully commercialize its computing services. Eventually, it would like to rent cloud cycles to anyone.

To get there, it will have to make working with quantum computers much easier. Brownell equated D-Wave’s current progress to Intel in the 1970s, when the company had just developed a microprocessor. You still need to program to perform any kind of task.

D-Wave is also continuously improving the speed of its computer. Brownell said it follows what the company likes to call “Rose’s Law,” after its founder: every two years, it will quadruple the number of qubits (particles coaxed into a specific quantum state) its computers run on, “more or less like clockwork.” Like transistors, more qubits equals more power. And D-Wave has already progressed from a computer with 128 qubits to an upcoming machine with 1,000.

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Photo by Jakub Mosur

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