Quantum computing has been in the offing for nearly 30 years now

Could its time finally be near?

Last year Google and NASA teamed up to investigate the latest version of D-Wave Systems’ D-Wave Two product. It consists of a single chip with 512 qubits housed in a much larger cooling device. While traditional computers use bits that represent either a one or a zero, quantum bits can be a one, zero or both values simultaneously. This allows information to be processed in novel ways, and holds out the promise of solving challenges that are difficult to tackle with today’s computers, such as large, complex problems.

Take the classic traveling salesman problem. The frugal salesman, conscious of energy costs, is constantly trying to find the shortest path through his sales calls, visiting each only once while not retracing any of his steps. Sadly, the number of options he has to evaluate expands almost exponentially with the number of stops he must make, severely taxing him. However, by evaluating different route options through a process known as quantum annealing, the D-Wave can exploit quantum effects to quickly narrow in on his most efficient route.

A closely related problem in travel is trying to find the lowest-priced fare in a travel shopping request. There are literally billions of options that may need to be considered in even the simplest shopping request. Today, sophisticated algorithms evaluate all the variables that go into a travel shopping request – things like dates of travel, origin and destination, airlines, cabins, schedules, fares, rules, connections, code shares, and availability, to name just a few. These algorithms do an impressive job using today’s technology, culling a universe of possible solutions down to a relevant few in a matter of seconds.

But before too long, travelers may be able to use quantum technology to search for their ideal itinerary, by whatever combination of price, accommodation, service level, and travel extras they fancy, and have the best results from among billions of potential solutions calculated for them in the blink of an eye.

While their investigation continues, Google noted that the chip is evolving and expects that, with better on-chip qubit connections, results should improve. So while we are not quite there yet with the D-Wave chip, we do seem to be closer than ever.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll be using booking engines to schedule travel by quantum teleportation at the local Transporter Station.

 1 Google Quantum A.I. Lab Team (https://plus.google.com/+QuantumAILab/posts )