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Government Hardware

The CIA and Jeff Bezos Bet $30 Million On Quantum Computing Company 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the always-bet-on-qubits dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The CIA's investment fund, In-Q-Tel, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have invested $30 million in a Canadian company that claims to build quantum computers, reports Technology Review in a detailed story on why that startup, D-Wave, appears to be attracting serious interest after years of skepticism from experts. A spokesman for In-Q-Tel says that intelligence agencies 'have many complex problems that tax classical computing architecture,' a feeling apparently strong enough to justify a bet on a radically different, and largely unproven, approach to computing."
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The CIA and Jeff Bezos Bet $30 Million On Quantum Computing Company

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  • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:29PM (#41554499)
    Just a quick FYI: for those of you still assuming that D-Wave is a bunch of snake-oil salesman (like I did for a long time), take a look at this bit from Ars Technica [arstechnica.com]. Basically what they've built is not a genuine quantum computer, but a sort of "quantum optimizer" that delivers speedups for some kinds of problems. Their crime might be that they just use too much marketing hyperbole, instead of being complete frauds.
    • by exomondo (1725132) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:19PM (#41554783)
      The accuracy is the fundamental problem, with no error correction (or at least indications that there is an error), which is one of the biggest problems with their approach, it's worse than useless. In the protein folding experiment it got the correct answer just 13 out of 10,000 times [nature.com].
      • by w_dragon (1802458) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:30PM (#41554855)
        That depends on the problem. I assume the CIA wants it for breaking encryption, which means they want it for factoring large numbers. That's a problem that is really hard for a normal computer to do, but really easy for it to verify. If factoring a 1024 bit number takes 10000 tries, and each try takes a second, you're still several orders of magnitude better than the current state of the art and you've rendered many of the current common encryption schemes useless.
      • by khallow (566160) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:33PM (#41554867)

        In the protein folding experiment it got the correct answer just 13 out of 10,000 times.

        Getting the right answer once can be good enough. It depends on how the relative cost of checking if an answer is correct. I gather this would be used to figure out NP complete problems (which I might add, the protein folding experiment may not be in) where finding the answer isn't known to be doable in polynomial time, but it can be checked in polynomial time.

    • by hweimer (709734)

      I think the big questions are how "quantum" (i.e., coherent) their devices actually are and whether this makes them more useful than their classical counterparts. And, if quantum optimization is a good idea to begin with [doi.org].

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:36PM (#41554533)
    That's like me betting a nickle. Strike that. A plug nickle.
  • by js33 (1077193) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:03PM (#41554683)

    The CIA's investment fund, In-Q-Tel,

    You know, the government has absolutely no business running an investment fund, especially a "secret" one where it looks like there's no meaningful oversight. This is we the people's money, and we the people have no interest in being the angel to some sleazy fly-by-night foreign start-up who just wants to suck at Uncle Sam's ever-so-generous teat.

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:13PM (#41554739)
      I think its rather obvious that it's not secret... since we're talking about it. I'd rather the CIA be investing in new technologies and improving society. At least they didn't spend $30 million starting a war somewhere.
    • by strat (39913) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:39PM (#41554883)

      The short answer is that the times have changed from back when government-funded applied research was a primary source of startup innovations. The reality is that small companies move faster and are more able to adjust to surprises in an agile manner than the Government. Now the tables have turned and the Government needs mechanisms to find new things because it's certainly not inventing them all in-house.

      Speaking as one of the other members of the population, I have a few mixed feelings about the government using public funds for equity buys. Conversely, if that mechanism allows the USG to more rapidly gain access to novel inventions than they have and those inventions optimize the Government's performance, it's a drop in the bucket and probably saving the taxpayers a bundle.

      If you find Google Earth useful, thank In-Q-Tel. When the startup that produced that technology was financed, only realtors in California had ever heard of it.

      (Yes, I'm a little biased. I have been a part of some public-private partnerships that have performed well.)

      • by js33 (1077193)

        If you find Google Earth useful, thank In-Q-Tel.

        I still can't get over the feeling that public money was spent for private gain, and it just isn't right in my book. If the government's intent had anything to do with getting a monetary return on investment, it would liquidate that fund, use the proceeds to pay down the debt, and let us the people decide how to invest our own money. If, on the other hand, the government's intent is to stimulate certain research, there needs to be a more ethical way to do it

  • by proca (2678743) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:06PM (#41554699)
    If I'm still developing when quantum computing becomes ubiquitous, how will programming work? Will booleans suddenly have 8 states? True, False, KindaTrue, MostlyFalse, Truthiness, TotallyBogus, WayCool, Cowabunga?
    • No need to wait. I have a quantum computer right here in my pocket. It's called a coin. You want eight possible states? Add three more nodes. It's highly efficient for answering life's toughest questions. And if I don't like the answer I can try again.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      If I'm still developing when quantum computing becomes ubiquitous, how will programming work?

      By that time, you should be past programming and have reached the management level; the questions at that level are of the nature of: what's the probability for the project to finish by X date, within Y budget and deliver Z?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        X*(Y*2/Z-1) finishing date, but managers typically misread it as X*(Y*2/2-1), which is why deadlines are always set impossibly soon. Just to clarify, X is ten years from any starting date (3650 days). Delivered Z is antecedent penalty; a reciprocal of the sum of all previous & related technologies squared 1/((q1+q2+q3...)^2). That's why it can take millions of dollars to shorten development time by mere days; the fancy equipment budget negates the penalty of the antecedent technologies. Reinventing the

    • You forgot FileNotFound!

    • by root_42 (103434)

      Nah, more like "True", "False" and "CowboyNeal".

  • Is the CIA once again hoping some expensive technology will actually allow them to finally get something right?
    • by NEDHead (1651195)

      Since much of what the CIA does is, in fact, secret, it seems odd that you would imply that they have a poor record of performance. My knowledge of their actions, aside from what I have learned from Covert Affairs, is dominated by the few screwups that actually become public in one form or another. Do you have some privileged knowledge that you would like to share?

      • The bomber gap, Bay of Pigs, Shah of Iran, Vietnam, Fall of the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Iraq,
        • by NEDHead (1651195)

          Is this supposed to be some sort of refutation? If I listed seven things you screwed up in your life, would that damn you eternally?

          My point was simple, but I will restate it here for your edification: Their job is secret; they don't tell us what they do, as a rule; you and I have no basis for judging their performance; they may (or may not) have had many major successes that we would celebrate if we knew of them.

          We just don't know.

          • They don't have to tell us what they do. They just have to tell us why they have so many obvious fuckups of gigantic proportions. If I were them, I'd be glad to tell us what great things they have done. Haven't seen any.
          • by AHuxley (892839)
            The problem is when the CIA "screwed up .. your life" is usually some small hot war in a distant land... Vietnam was great for drug profits and systems testing but no so good for the people who could not 'study' or 'faith' their way out of the draft.
          • by gl4ss (559668)

            well, if every operation we know of got fucked up.
            now we know that they invested in dwave.

            leaving us with a good chance of dwave being a fuckup.

            also, when's the last time usa acted on genuinely good intel from cia and not reuters? osama slaying?

  • Wow, they missed the bus on that one! Why not invest in bitcoins instead? lol. Ohhhhh, you might be able to mine bitcoins with a quantum computer. That's tricky, lol.
    Btw nobody tell them that although the chip runs on magic (paraphrased), the speed of data in or out depends on the bus speed of the board it's in. So that really limits the ability to use it to its full potential.
    • Sorry, I don't understand what point you're trying to make. You're decrying quantum computing as useless because we can only feed data into it at a finite speed, which may or not cause a bottleneck?
  • Perhaps this investment is a true test of faith in quantum mechanics. If you are pretty sure the probability that this company will succeed is non-zero, then perhaps in one universe this investment will pay off. Even if in this universe, the investment goes belly up, in another universe, you will be rich. Maybe then you can live vicarously in that knowlege... If you are true believer, that is ;^)

  • They only have 1 complex problem they're trying to pursue; breaking crypto systems.

  • Anyone interested in D-wave owes it to themselves to read up on the many blog posts written byScott Aaronson [scottaaronson.com] on the subject. I'll leave it up to the readers to challenge or assert his observations, none-the-less, they are a good read on this subject.

  • Goes to show you even the CIA and Bezos can be scammed by snake oil salesmen.

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