This is a very Big Deal, which also increases the likelihood that Big Data will be a very Big Deal.
While the Canadian economy is expected to languish in the doldrums for the foreseeable future, D-Wave, a Vancouver quantum computing company, with e@UBC funding, is making big waves (pun intended). Only last month I sat with Todd Farrell, UBC’s venture fund manager and we discussed D-Wave. How could an advanced technology like this thrive in Vancouver, and not need to be in Silicon Valley? Todd argued convincingly that Vancouver was a perfect location for D-Wave, and that there was no longer any need for companies to trudge south. So now, seemingly out of the blue we have three Vancouver-based high tech companies that may be showing Canada the way out of its “natural resource curse:” D-Wave, General Fusion, and potentially also Hootsuite.
Read more about Canada’s “natural resource curse:” http://mayo615.com/2013/03/11/alberta-bitumen-bubble-and-the-canadian-economy-industry-analysis-case-study/
I will try to explain this in layman’s terms. QUANTUM effects are vital to modern electronics. They can also be a damnable nuisance. Make a transistor too small, for example, and electrons within it can simply vanish from one place and reappear in another because their location is quantumly indeterminate. Currents thus leak away, and signals are degraded.
Other people, like D-Wave’s founders, Geordie Rose and Vern Brownell, though, saw opportunity instead. Some of the weird things that go on at the quantum scale afford the possibility of doing computing in a new and faster way, and of sending messages that—in theory at least—cannot be intercepted. Several groups of such enthusiasts have been working to build quantum computers capable of solving some of the problems which stump today’s machines, such as finding prime factors of numbers with hundreds of digits or trawling through large databases. As recently as 2012, The Economist was reporting that quantum computing was in its infancy and years from commercial realization. At that time, I had also discussed quantum computing with our resident local expert on advanced semiconductors, Andrew Labun, who shared the view of The Economist. It now appears that D-Wave is at the forefront of this technology, having succeeded in selling one of its computers to Lockheed Martin Aerospace, for hideously complex applications in space, bleeding edge radar technology, and aerospace finite element analysis or FEA. FEA simulates the performance of airframes in high stress and high speed environments. This has been done for years at facilities like NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, home of the largest wind tunnel in the World. However, the complexity of the analysis required hours of supercomputer number crunching to show results. Silicon Graphics, which sat directly next door to NASA Ames, tried to sell its 3D visualization supercomputers to NASA with some limited success, but the technology at that time was not up to the task. Silicon Graphics is no longer in business. D-Wave’s sale to Lockheed Martin, which also sits on the NASA Ames site, suggests that D-Wave’s technology is ready for prime time. This is a potentially huge leap forward, and a strong message on what is needed to lift the Canadian economy: technological innovation and basic research and development funding.
Read more about D-Wave in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/technology/testing-a-new-class-of-speedy-computer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Read more about D-Wave in the Vancouver Sun: Metro Vancouver firm’s groundbreaking quantum computer wins confidence of U.S. aerospace giant.