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Thanks to the NSA, quantum computing may some day be in the cloud

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 6, 2014
The spy agency is spending $80M on basic research related to quantum computing.

In "our view of the future," said Brownell, "there will be quantum computing resources in the cloud." It will be a level playing field, available to any developer who wants to solve a particularly difficult problem, such as machine learning.

Joseph, as well, sees quantum computing operating in tandem with classical computing — with potential as a cloud-based resource. Quantum computing can quickly provide ranges and probabilities, but to narrow the data down will still require a classical system.

An ordinary computer uses bits that are either 0 or 1. A quantum computer uses subatomic particles that can hold states, 0 and 1 simultaneously. Instead of doing a calculation one after the other, the processing can increase exponentially. Two qubits can hold four distinct states, and 10 qubits can hold 1,024 states.

There are different approaches to building quantum computers, but no agreed upon methods. A lot of research involves developing a system that can utilize Shor's algorithm, named after MIT researcher Peter Shor. That algorithm can help with code-cracking.

Quantum computing isn't a replacement for high performance computing or exascale, despite its potential speed, said Steve Conway, an analyst at IDC. He believes the biggest industrial use for quantum computing will be to improve computer security.

"You will never see a quantum computer doing word processing," said Conway.


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