OK, so for those who haven’t yet heard: this week Google’s Quantum AI Lab announced that it’s teaming up with John Martinis, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, to accelerate the Martinis group‘s already-amazing efforts in superconducting quantum computing. (See here for the MIT Tech‘s article, here for Wired‘s, and here for the WSJ‘s.) Besides building some of the best (if not the best) superconducting qubits in the world, Martinis, along with Matthias Troyer, was also one of the coauthors of two important papers that found no evidence for any speedup in the D-Wave machines. (However, in addition to working with the Martinis group, Google says it will also continue its partnership with D-Wave, in an apparent effort to keep reality more soap-operatically interesting than any hypothetical scenario one could make up on a blog.)
I have the great honor of knowing John Martinis, even once sharing the stage with him at a “Physics Cafe” in Aspen. Like everyone else in our field, I profoundly admire the accomplishments of his group: they’ve achieved coherence times in the tens of microseconds, demonstrated some of the building blocks of quantum error-correction, and gotten tantalizingly close to the fault-tolerance threshold for the surface code. (When, in D-Wave threads, people have challenged me: “OK Scott, so then which experimental quantum computing groups should be supported more?,” my answer has always been some variant of: “groups like John Martinis’s.”)
So I’m excited about this partnership, and I wish it the very best.
But I know people will ask: apart from the support and well-wishes, do I have any predictions? Alright, here’s one. I predict that, regardless of what happens, commenters here will somehow make it out that I was wrong. So for example, if the Martinis group, supported by Google, ultimately succeeds in building a useful, scalable quantum computer—by emphasizing error-correction, long coherence times (measured in the conventional way), “gate-model” quantum algorithms, universality, and all the other things that D-Wave founder Geordie Rose has pooh-poohed from the beginning—commenters will claim that still most of the credit belongs to D-Wave, for whetting Google’s appetite, and for getting it involved in superconducting QC in the first place. (The unstated implication being that, even if there were little or no evidence that D-Wave’s approach would ever lead to a genuine speedup, we skeptics still would’ve been wrong to state that truth in public.) Conversely, if this venture doesn’t live up to the initial hopes, commenters will claim that that just proves Google’s mistake: rather than “selling out to appease the ivory-tower skeptics,” they should’ve doubled down on D-Wave. Even if something completely different happens—let’s say, Google, UCSB, and D-Wave jointly abandon their quantum computing ambitions, and instead partner with ISIS to establish the world’s first “Qualiphate,” ruling with a niobium fist over California and parts of Oregon—I would’ve been wrong for having failed to foresee that. (Even if I did sort of foresee it in the last sentence…)
Yet, while I’ll never live to see the blog-commentariat acknowledge the fundamental reasonableness of my views, I might live to see scalable quantum computers become a reality, and that would surely be some consolation. For that reason, even if for no others, I once again wish the Martinis group and Google’s Quantum AI Lab the best in their new partnership.
Unrelated Announcement: Check out a lovely (very basic) introductory video on quantum computing and information, narrated by John Preskill and Spiros Michalakis, and illustrated by Jorge Cham of PhD Comics.