back to article A lone Nvidia GPU speeds past the physics-straining might of a quantum computer – in these apps at least

A group of researchers from Microsoft and the Scalable Parallel Computing Laboratory in Zurich have offered a harsh reality check to those hyping the world altering potential of quantum computers, by finding that off-the-shelf GPUs can sometimes do better than machines from the frontiers of physics. Drug discovery, material …

  1. Rich 2 Silver badge

    Weather forecasting

    Weather forecasting is a non-starter application for quantum computers. It’s a chaotic system. Quantum computers cannot handle chaotic systems.

    In addition, you have to be very specific about what you are asking the QC you do. What would you ask it? “Will it rain” ? Good luck coming up with a QC algorithm for that. Actually, don’t bother - it won’t work (see “chaotic system” above)

    Why does weather forecasting keep being peddled out as a likely application for QC?

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Weather forecasting

      Protein folding is a way off too. This preprint suggests that what takes a few days on a "conventional computer" would take decades or millennia on today's quantum computers.

    2. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Weather forecasting is a non-starter application for quantum computers.

      In general, yes. But there may be some parts of the many various types of computation going on in a weather simulation that could benefit, and be done faster - e.g. Fourier transforms. But it's not so clear to me how much of an overall speedup this could give, ... you'd have to ask a weather simulator :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why does weather forecasting keep being peddled out as a likely application for QC?

    Because ChatGPT has suggested it's the most effective way to source investment ?

  3. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

    This doesn't mean that quantum computing is worthless, it simply means that, at least for the foreseeable future, the applications for quantum systems are likely to be narrower than the marketers would have you believe.

    Well given that a standard off the shelf graphics card can outrun a quantum computer now doesn't mean that it always will in the future. Assuming that people are willing to spend billions on it, as opposed to millions (or less) buying off the shelf technology.

    Unless quantum computing can get very much faster, very quickly, I don't see it having a commercial future. It'll be something someone picks up again in twenty years and goes "hey this was a cool idea" and tries to revive it.

    I watched the documentary on the Fyre festival over the weekend, and right now quantum computing feels like the shiny marketing is out there, and the tickets went on sale, we're just waiting for the buyers to be disappointed.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Even scaling QC up to a thousand or so error-corrected qubits would make it quite useful for things like particle-physics simulations. That might also mean practical applications in chemistry as well; I don't know enough about how QC might be used in that domain to say. They can also be used for things like quantum-circuit simulation, though I'm not sure what you'd do with that.

      Other applications look considerably more fanciful unless and until 1) QCs can be scaled up much further, and 2) costs come down considerably. There just aren't that many algorithms in BQP that we know of (assuming P≠NP of course, because if the hierarchy collapses all bets are off), and the ones we do know, while conceptually cool, don't seem to have obvious business applications until you can scale them up enough that they're infeasible on commercial conventional machines. Which is pretty much the point of the article.

      But working QCs at relatively small scale are interesting for some sorts of physics research. For that matter, even building smaller QCs is interesting engineering, and we could learn some useful stuff. As usual, the hype is not only excessive but misses the main point.

    2. v13

      QC can get very very much faster. Nearly infinitely faster. But it isn't exactly computing. It isn't suitable for normal computing tasks.

  4. aerogems Silver badge

    So basically, it's like quantum computers are still back in the ISA days while binary computers are entering the NVMe era. Meaning quantum computer designers would get more bang for their buck by working on these bottlenecks than just throwing qubits at the problem. Sort of like classical computers learned back in the days when AMD and Intel were racing to have the fastest CPU in terms of raw MHz or GHz, IPC efficiency of the CPU be damned or even considerations about how the old IDE bus couldn't move data around anywhere near fast enough and the CPU would spend a great deal of its life in the idle loop. Hopefully that is the lesson that quantum computer builders take away from this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As you might expect, this is the main focus of current research already, and even then orgs are not at all saying these things will replace binary compute. Rather they will be accelerators for certain classes of problems.

      This is not new, and modern graphics architecture has roots in attempts to harness vector machines for large scale processes.

      The announcement reeks of an attempt to convince share holders that Microsoft's investments are going in the right direction rather than any real analysis.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      It's curious that you think the people working on QC implementations are unaware of these concerns, or aren't working on them.

      It might be possible that one-line summaries of press releases do not reveal everything about actual QC development programs.

      While I am moderately QC-skeptical (I understand it well enough to know that, for example, the probability of a realistic threat to pre-quantum-resistant cryptography for anything but the most valuable data in the foreseeable future is very small), I follow it closely enough to know that a lot of progress has been made in the past few years and there isn't any compelling reason to think that we won't have machines useful for the actually interesting applications – physics research in particular – in a reasonable time. Yes, QEC is still troublesome, but no one's shown it's unsolvable.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "no more than two weeks to solve"

    Um, sorry, but isn't quantum computing supposed to be instantaneous ?

    With all possible results instead of just one ?

    We've been told that (current) encryption would be literally destroyed by a quantum computer. The NSA would be swimming in decrypted SMSs and emails.

    And now it takes two weeks ?

    The more time goes by, the less I understand quantum computing.

    And now it's useless anyway.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Um, sorry, but isn't quantum computing supposed to be instantaneous ?

      No, it isn't instantaneous. I might imagine, I suppose, that some reporting might have given that impression, but none of the actual physics ever has.

    2. Rich 2 Silver badge

      Re: "no more than two weeks to solve"

      Try this….

      Ignore the headline of the video (“Quantum computers will kill the internet”) - buried in it is actually one of the clearest and most useful descriptions I’ve found of how a quantum computer actually works

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "no more than two weeks to solve"

      Um, sorry, but isn't quantum computing supposed to be instantaneous ?

      With all possible results instead of just one ?

      No, that is very much not at all what QC is. You're thinking of magic.

      The more time goes by, the less I understand quantum computing.

      Quite possibly true.

      And now it's useless anyway.

      Very much false.

  6. DJO Silver badge

    Narrow optics

    Better and more efficient electric vehicles rely on finding better battery chemistries

    This sentence displays a fixed mindset - because it ignores everything that is not a battery. The biggest factor in making electric vehicles practical is the development of really efficient motors. After that there is the control and regeneration systems that eke out every last joule. The developments in battery design while important is minor compared to the gains from everything else.

    So one has to ask has the author been equally blinkered when looking at the advantages quantum computing might offer in time?

    Personally I think if anything he was over optimistic and quantum computing when it finally happens will be restricted to some very narrow fields but I'm no expert so feel free to ignore my opinions on this subject - it's really too early to tell and various problems look tricky to solve.

    1. Elongated Muskrat

      Re: Narrow optics

      Whilst all of this may very well be true, and we've probably reached a point with battery chemistry where any improvements on power density / unit mass are going to be incremental, there's probably still plenty of room for materials science to come up with better battery structural designs and tweaks to chemistry that will yield better battery life and charge/discharge cycle time, that sort of thing. At the moment, the life cycle of an electric vehicle is very much governed by how long the batteries will usefully last, and a battery that has a useful life of ten years rather than five would make a vast difference.

    2. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Narrow optics

      Aren't electrical motors 90%+ efficient already?

      1. Jonno

        Re: Narrow optics

        The entire drivetrain in the Mercedes EQXX is 95% efficient, so yes, they are

        1. LogicGate Silver badge

          Re: Narrow optics

          Motors and inverters are pretty much a solved problem (and has been since before year 2000) . The battery is the difficult bit.

  7. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Horses for Courses

    So in 2023 a classical computer can outperform a quantum.

    But around 1900 a horse would have comfortably outpaced a car.

    1. Chris 244

      Re: Horses for Courses

      Quick check shows this comparison doesn't hold up.

      First quantum computer was built 25 years ago (1998).

      First car was built in 1886. Twenty-five years later the "Blitzen-Benz" set a land-speed record of 228 kph. Production cars by Mercedes had a top speed of over 110 kph. Model T had top speed of around 65 kph, significantly faster than the top speed of a horse with rider.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Horses for Courses

      Ugh. Daft metaphor is daft.

      Quantum computing only offers an advantage for algorithms in particular complexity classes, and fundamental physical constraints on quantum computers are much more burdensome than those on conventional electronic (or photonic) computers. QCs will always lag far behind conventional computers for algorithms that do not offer a significant quantum complexity advantage, and will always require significantly more resources per unit of data.

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