Lockheed Martin is betting big on quantum computing, preparing to deploy it into commercial and military applications.
Quantum computing differs from regular computing because it allows data to be stored in more than just the binary format of ones and zeros to signal whether a circuit is on or off. In a quantum computer information is stored in qubits: ones, zeros, or a combination of the two. This ability means that a quantum computer is able to do millions of computations in parallel, and with it the promise of infinitely more powerful machines than traditional transistor-based computers.
In 2011, Lockheed Marin purchased a quantum computer from Vancouver-based research firm D-Wave. The company intends to use the power of quantum computing to create next-generation radar, space, and aircraft systems. The vast computing power afforded would allow researchers to run simulations that test how parts of a system would react to a catastrophic event. An example provided by the company’s Chief Technical Officer to The New York Times imagined a simulation of how the complex software of a satellite would be affected by an electromagnetic pulse from a solar flare or nuclear explosion. That’s a task that currently takes weeks, or even months using today’s computers.
D-Wave does have its detractors, as many have pointed out the company has not released any peer-reviewed research to back its quantum claims. But it also has quite the collection of supporters who have voiced their confidence in the form of venture capital funding. The company counts Goldman Sachs, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and CIA-front shop In-Q-Tel as investors.
Should D-Wave’s quantum processor work as claimed, and Lockheed Martin commercializes it in the next half-decade, the field of high performance computing (HPC) will be revolutionized. Chipmaker Nvidia is also likely keeping a close eye on progress, as it is pushing its GPU-clusters as a way to tackle the next ‘big-questions’ in data-intensive science and computing.
Commercialized quantum computer will be expensive, but then all new tech initially commands a high price. It soon drops as demand and production escalates.