quantum computer hoax?

Perhaps hoax is too strong a word. Canadian company D-Wave systems demoed a 16-“qubit” quantum computer last week, and demonstrated applications like playing Sudoku, searching a protein database, and calculating seating charts.

However, there is now some skepticism as to whether the device really constitutes a quantum computer in the general sense:

While impressive, some scientists don’t like the fact that the calculations were actually being done at a remote location and that the computer couldn’t be physically inspected. D-Wave reps were actually quite open about that detail saying the computer was too delicate to be moved because of its liquid helium cooling system and sensitive components.

Lieven Vandersypen, an associate professor at Delft University and quantum computing researcher, told the IEEE Spectrum that he is surprised that investors have put money into the company and that D-Wave “hasn’t published any major advances or breakthroughs in the scientific literature.” He adds that the company has very little detail to support their claims, something that a peer-reviewed article would have.

Phil Kuekes, a computer architect in the Quantum Science Research Group at HP Labs, was also skeptical telling the Associated Press, “Until we see more actual measurements, it’s hard to know whether they succeeded or not.”

The lack of any peer-reviewed publications about the computer is indeed troublesome. The CEO of D-Wave himself described it as a “special-purpose machine that uses some quantum mechanics” – which is not the same thing as a computer that can be programmed. In light of this, it’s hard to see any rational justification for going straight to demo other than PR (and perhaps to attract investment?).

UPDATE: Ars looks at the issue as well.