Quantum computing is real. But it’s also hard. So hard that only a few developers, usually trained in quantum physics, advanced mathematics, or most likely both, can actually work with the few quantum computers that exist. Now D-Wave, the Canadian company behind the quantum computer that Google and NASA have been testing since 2013, wants to make quantum computing a bit easier through the power of open source software.
Traditional computers store information in “bits,” which can represent either a “1” or a “0.” Quantum computing takes advantage of quantum particles in a strange state called “superposition,” meaning that the particle is spinning in two directions at once. Researchers have learned to take advantage of these particles to create what they call “qubits,” which can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. By stringing qubits together, companies like D-Wave hope to create computers that are exponentially faster than today’s machines.
IBM demonstrated a working quantum computer in 2000 and continues to improve on its technology. Google is working on its own quantum computer and also teamed up with NASA to test D-Wave’s system in 2013. Lockheed Martin and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are also working with D-Wave machines. But today’s quantum computers still aren’t practical for most real-world applications. qubits are fragile and can be easily knocked out of the superposition state. Meanwhile, quantum computers are extremely difficult to program today because they require highly specialized knowledge.
“D-Wave is driving the hardware forward,” says D-Wave International president Bo Ewald. “But we need more smart people thinking about applications, and another set thinking about software tools.”