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Google's quantum computing push opens new front in cloud battle
Source: Mark Bergen

For years, Google has poured time and money into one of the most ambitious dreams of modern technology: building a working quantum computer. Now the company is thinking of ways to turn the project into a business.

The company has offered science labs and artificial intelligence researchers early access to its quantum machines over the internet in recent months. The goal is to spur development of tools and applications for the technology, and ultimately turn it into a faster, more powerful cloud-computing service, according to people pitched on the plan.

A Google presentation slide, obtained by Bloomberg News, details the company's quantum hardware, including a new lab it calls an "Embryonic quantum data center." Another slide on the software displays information about ProjectQ, an open-source effort to get developers to write code for quantum computers.

These systems push the boundaries of how atoms and other tiny particles work to solve problems that traditional computers can't handle. The technology is still emerging from a long research phase, and its capabilities are hotly debated. Still, Google's nascent efforts to commercialise it, and similar steps by IBM, are opening a new phase of competition in the fast-growing cloud market.

While traditional computers process bits of information as 1s or zeros, quantum machines rely on "qubits" that can be a 1, a zero, or a state somewhere in between at any moment. It's still unclear whether this works better than existing supercomputers. And the technology doesn't support commercial activity yet.

Still, Google and a growing number of other companies think it will transform computing by processing some important tasks millions of times faster.

Quantum computers are bulky beasts that require special care, such as deep refrigeration, so they're more likely to be rented over the internet than bought and put in companies' own data centres. If the machines end up being considerably faster, that would be a major competitive advantage for a cloud service. Google rents storage by the minute. In theory, quantum machines would trim computing times drastically, giving a cloud service a huge effective price cut.

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