A QUANTUM computer has learned to ‘see' trees. The breakthrough marks an important step on the road towards computers that can actually visualise physical objects in a similar way to living creatures.
A team from St. Mary's College, Moraga, California, used a D-Wave 2X computer, similar to the type owned jointly by Google and NASA, containing 1152 qubits but which has since been upgraded to an even more powerful version.
Science reports, that the computer was fed hundreds of NASA satellite images of California, which it then tried to identify as trees, as opposed to roads, water, cities etc.
The computer looked at features such as hue, reflection, colour saturation, shadow and so forth, in order to make a decision on what was a tree. The researchers would then tell the D-Wave if she was right or wrong allowing her to learn from the experience and get it right next time.
With a few manual tweaks to the algorithm, the computer was soon able to recognise trees.
This technique can be perfected far quicker on Quantum machines as they don't rely on the linear concept of zeros and ones to make their calculations, but rather the abstract, subatomic concept of data simultaneously being a zero and a one.
The problem is that Quantum computing is not easy and to make the process stable requires the processors to run at almost absolute zero.
However, early this week, IBM announced that it would be launching a pay-as-you-go Quantum computer service in the cloud, though it warns that the purpose is more to get on the bottom rung of programming it rather than the speed benefits which will be limited to begin with.
A team from the University of Surrey recently published blueprints for what it believes will be a working large-scale Quantum machine, and that could be an even bigger game changer.
Quantum computing has the potential to do complex calculations millions of times faster than today's fastest supercomputers, which means, for example, they could spot patterns in medical records that would take a lifetime of human research to achieve in a matter of seconds.
Of course, the catch will be whether the billions of pounds needed to build such a machine will be benefacted to such worthy causes. µ
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