Google Delves Into Quantum Artificial Intelligence

Freelance Technology Reporter for TechWeekEurope and eWeek

Google has launched a programme aimed at using quantum computing to improve the way machines learn in order to solve tough problems

Google is starting up a new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab to find ways to make computers much smarter so they can help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, from diseases to environmental threats.

The idea, according to a 16 May post by Hartmut Neven, director of engineering for the Google Research team on the Google Research Blog, is to assemble the lab at NASA’s Ames Research Centre using a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems, then to have the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) invite researchers from around the world to use it for advanced studies.

“Our goal: to study how quantum computing might advance machine learning,” Neven wrote.

Endless possibilities

The possibilities are almost endless, according to Google. “We believe quantum computing may help solve some of the most challenging computer science problems, particularly in machine learning,” wrote Neven. “Machine learning is all about building better models of the world to make more accurate predictions. If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop. If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what’s happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what’s on the web so you get the best answer.”

That’s why advances in today’s computers are needed.

google-london-office“Machine learning is highly difficult … because building a good model is really a creative act,” wrote Neven. “As an analogy, consider what it takes to architect a house. You’re balancing lots of constraints – budget, usage requirements, space limitations, etc. – but still trying to create the most beautiful house you can. A creative architect will find a great solution. Mathematically speaking the architect is solving an optimisation problem and creativity can be thought of as the ability to come up with a good solution given an objective and constraints.”

But typical computers can’t easily do those kinds of creative things, he wrote.

“That’s where quantum computing comes in. It lets you cheat a little,” giving researchers the ability to “see” creative possibilities that traditional computers can’t find.

“We’ve already developed some quantum machine learning algorithms,” wrote Neven. “One produces very compact, efficient recognisers – very useful when you’re short on power, as on a mobile device. Another can handle highly polluted training data, where a high percentage of the examples are mislabeled, as they often are in the real world. And we’ve learned some useful principles: e.g., you get the best results not with pure quantum computing, but by mixing quantum and classical computing.”

Speech recognition

Some of the potential projects for the lab include things like constructing more efficient and more accurate models for everything from speech recognition to web search to protein folding, wrote Neven. “We actually think quantum machine learning may provide the most creative problem-solving process under the known laws of physics.”

Quantum computing promises to dramatically accelerate important computational tasks in ways not seen before in traditional computers or supercomputers. Traditional computers use binary arithmetic for their logic, while quantum computers replace binary arithmetic with the laws of quantum physics.

Quantum law applies to all physical systems at the atomic scale. Because a quantum computer can require fewer steps to achieve a result compared with a conventional computer, it can achieve much faster performance than a conventional computer.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment further about the lab when contacted by eWEEK.

Google has actually been involved in other quantum computing initiatives in the past, including previous collaborations with D-Wave and NASA. The search giant is involved in many research fields in computing.

In February, it announced its first-ever Google App Engine Research Awards to seven projects that will use the App Engine platform’s abilities to work with large data sets for academic and scientific research.

Google and academia

The new programme, which was announced in the spring of 2012, brought in many proposals for a wide variety of scientific research, including in subject areas such as mathematics, computer vision, bioinformatics, climate and computer science.

Google created the fledgling App Engine Research Awards programme to bolster its support of academic research, while providing academic researchers with access to Google’s infrastructure so they can explore innovative ideas in their fields, according to Google.

The App Engine platform is particularly suited to managing heavy data loads and running large-scale applications. Google is active in providing resources for research and educational projects in many areas.

Also in February, the company announced its ninth annual Google Summer of Code contest, which invites college students to learn about the world of open-source code development.

The programme has involved some 6,000 college and university students from more than 100 countries since its start in 2005.

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Originally published on eWeek.