By Allan Maurer
You probably never think about how search engines work. You type your question or a word or phrase and “Presto!” you get results.
To provide those results, though, the search engines do a lot of math to decide which results to show. Google’s page ranking algorithm, for instance, is said to be the largest numerical calculation run anywhere in the world.
As the web expands, which it does daily, the time and resources needed to run those calculations increase, notes Daniel Lidar, University of Southern California researcher and corresponding author of a paper in the journal Physical Review Letters (June 4) that proposes using quantum computers to speed up the process.
Describing Lidar’s work, Robert Perkins wrote, “As opposed to traditional computer bits, which can encode distinctly either a one or a zero, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can encode a one and a zero at the same time. This property, called superposition, some day will allow quantum computers to perform certain calculations much faster than traditional computers.”
Right now, there is no quantum computer even close to being large enough to run Google’s page ranking algorithm for the web. So the researchers simulated one with web models of a few thousand pages.
Perkins wrote that “The simulation showed that a quantum computer could, in principle, return the ranking of the most important pages in the Web faster than traditional computers, and that this quantum speedup would improve the more pages needed to be ranked.”
The simulation also demonstrated that in determining if a web page rank should be updated, a quantum computer would be able to spit out a yes-or-no answer exponentially faster than a traditional computer.
The research was funded by a number of sources, including the National Science Foundation, the NASA Ames Research Center, the Lockheed Martin Corporation’s University Research Initiative program and a Google faculty research award to Lidar.
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