KentuckyFC writes: In May last year, Google and NASA paid a reported $15 million for a quantum computer from the controversial Canadian start up D-Wave Systems. One question mark over the device is whether it really is quantum or just a conventional computer in disguise. That's harder to answer than it sounds, not least because any direct measurement of a quantum state destroys it. So physicists have to take an indirect approach. They assume the computer is a black box in which they can input data and receive an output. Given this input and output, the question is whether this computing behaviour can be best reproduced by a classical or a quantum algorithm. Last summer, an international team of scientists compared a number of classical algorithms against an algorithm that relies on a process called quantum annealing. Their conclusion was that quantum annealing best reproduces the D-Wave computer's behaviour, a result that was a huge boon for the company. Now a group from UC Berkeley and IBM's Watson Research Lab says it has a found a classical algorithm that explains the results just as well, or even better, than quantum annealing. In other words, the results from the D-Wave machine could just as easily be explained if it was entirely classical. That comes on the back of mounting evidence that the D-Wave computer may not cut the quantum mustard in other ways too. Could it be that Google and NASA have forked out millions for a classical calculator? Just possibly, yes.
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