ARC Colloquium and ACO Student Seminar: Umesh Vazirani - U. C. Berkeley

How “Quantum” is the D-Wave Machine?

A special purpose "quantum computer" manufactured by the Canadian company D-Wave has led to intense excitement in the mainstream media (including a Time magazine cover dubbing it "the infinity machine") and the computer industry, and a lively debate in the academic community. Scientifically it leads to the interesting question of whether it is possible to obtain quantum effects on a large scale with qubits that are not individually well protected from decoherence.

We propose a simple and natural classical model for the D-Wave machine - replacing their superconducting qubits with classical magnets, coupled with nearest neighbor interactions whose strength is taken from D-Wave's specifications. The behavior of this classical model agrees remarkably well with posted experimental data about the input-output behavior of the D-Wave machine.

Further investigation of our classical model shows that despite its simplicity, it exhibits novel algorithmic properties. Its behavior is fundamentally different from that of its close cousin, classical heuristic simulated annealing. In particular, the major motivation behind the D-Wave machine was the hope that it would tunnel through local minima in the energy landscape, minima that simulated annealing got stuck in. The reproduction of D-Wave's behavior by our classical model demonstrates that tunneling on a large scale may be a more subtle phenomenon than was previously understood.

In this talk I will try to make these results accessible to a general computer science audience, as well as discuss future prospects for quantum annealing based quantum computers.

Based on joint work with Seung Woo Shin, Graheme Smith, and John Smolin.

Event Details


  • Friday, November 21, 2014
    12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Location: Skiles 005

For More Information Contact

denton at cc dot gatech edu