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Google and NASA Launch Quantum Computing AI Lab

This article was first published on 21 May 2013.

I’m continually amazed at just how quickly things are moving.  I suspect this story from the MIT Technology Lab will largely slip beneath the radar for all but a relatively small group of interested observers.  But there are a couple of dimensions to this story that mark it as an exceptionally important development in the context of disruption and make it absolutely worthy of attention.

A new paradigm for computing

The first is that we’re quite possibly witnessing the early steps of a very significant transition – that is, the transition from the age of integrated circuits to the age of quantum computing.  The graphic below shows that, in the history of computing these transitions have only happened on a handful of occasions.

Exponential growth.jpg

These transitions are important because the reality is that the processing power of each distinct phase of computing history has a natural ceiling defined by the technology’s own unique physical engineering limits.  If there’s no successor technology then the exponential growth in processing power that’s part and parcel of Moore’s Law comes to a halt, as does the disruption that typically accompanies it.

The current phase – the age of integrated circuits – has been running since the early 70’s and, is perhaps more closely associated with Moore’s Law than any of the previous phases.  Until now there has been no clear successor to the age of integrated circuits.  This has prompted many to predict, given that we’re fast approach the engineering limits of integrated circuits, that we are only a handful of years away from the end of Moore’s Law.

Quantum computing has been suggested as the next phase by some commentators but the prevailing view, even among advocates of that idea, has been that the challenges of building a quantum computer are formidable and that the age of quantum computing may be many years, if not decades, away.

The emergence of the D Wave quantum computer puts the cat well and truly amongst the pigeons.  It’s still too early to tell but the D Wave machine may well usher in the age of quantum computing much more quickly than many had ever believed was possible.  The fact that Google and NASA have purchased this machine certainly adds a level of credibility to D Wave platform.  If it delivers on the quantum computing promise, then we’re entering a new ago of processing capability that will extend Moore’s Law for years to come, accelerate technological progress and turn much of the world as we know it well and truly upside down.

Google and the Artificial Intelligence jigsaw

The second point to note is that this is yet another story about Google ramping up its efforts in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  It comes on the back of a number of moves in the past few months that signal a significant push by Google to assemble the pieces of the puzzle required to make major breakthroughs in their push to build increasingly smart knowledge platforms.  Those moves include:

  • Recruitment of genius, inventor and artificial intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil as their Chief Engineer.  Amongst other things Kurzweil has just published a book titled “How to create a mind” which specifically explores his ideas about how to build a truly intelligent computer: one that can understand language and then make inferences and decisions on its own.
  • Acquisition of the some of the world’s foremost experts in the field of neural networks and machine learning through their recent acquisition of start-up DNNresearch
  • The continued development of Google Now and its focus on building increasingly intelligent digital assistants

When you look at the above and consider that Google has access to vast financial reserves, more data than perhaps any company on the planet and an explicit desire to “build great things that don’t exist” it’s a pretty good bet that we’ll see them deliver artificial intelligence systems on an unprecedented scale in the not-too-distant future.

As I’ve said before, if your existing business model is in any way dependent on providing people with access to knowledge, professional judgment etc. you need to be preparing for a world where your greatest competitor may not be the guy in the office or factory a couple of doors up the road.  Rather it may be a smartphone or tablet device powered by an artificial intelligence engine on the other side of the world rather than– now that would be truly disruptive!

Note – Image sourced from Presentation by Ray Kurzweil to Google in 2009

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