In the furthest reaches of deep, dark space, far from any star or hot object, it’s cold. Extremely cold. Around -270 degrees Celsius actually (3.15 kelvin). Just a few degrees above absolute zero. To get there would take about 5000 light years.
But if you wanted reach the absolute coldest place in the known universe, you could do so in a lot less time than 5000 light years.
In fact, if you really wanted to go there, you’d just need to travel to California.
The coldest place in the known universe exists right here on earth. Locked away in a 6feet wide by 10 feet tall black monolithic box about a six-hour drive from Disneyland. The coldest place in the known universe exists at a research lab owned and run by Google, where the constant temperature sits at 0.02 Kelvin (0 Kelvin is Absolute Zero).
You see, for Google to provide all the cool computing things you’ve come to know and love, they require A LOT of computing power. So much so, that even if you took all the best publicly available computers in the world and added the power together, it would still not be enough power that Google would need.
To put it in context, Google is a lot more than a search engine and mobile phone operating systems. This topic alone is enough for a 500 page post, (I swear I’ll write it one day), but I’ll summarise it by getting you to try and imagine the most complicated computing problem that could ever exist, multiply that by at least 1000 and Google have a team working on that, as well as 10,000 other hardcore computing problems.
So how do they overcome this?
Buckle up. I’m about to blow your mind with some really nerdy stuff now!
In order achieve this kind of computing power, Google invested in what are known as Quantum Computers. Sounds cool huh? Well, how these work is even cooler. I won’t try to explain the specifics of quantum computing (for obvious reasons), but I’ll try my best at the super-simple version.
A Super-duper Simple Intro to Quantum Computing
Normal computing processes data using things called Bits. The more Bits you have to throw at a problem, the faster your computer can solve it. But for Google, all the bits in the world weren’t enough. They needed more. Google needed Qubits.
Qubits are able to utilise a really odd phenomenon in physics that allows multiple things to exist in the same place at the same time.
For example: a computer with 2 bits can create 00,11,01 or 10, but a qubit can create those sequences at the same time. It’s essentially a mathematical parallel universe.
The problem with qubits is that they are extremely fragile. In fact, not only can they exist in reality for only a fraction of a second, but in order for a qubit processer to create that calculation it needs to exist in an environment with no disturbances or noise at all and at all, and at a temperature of almost absolute zero.
Colder than the deepest darkest place anywhere else in the entire universe.
Google are currently working closely with NASA and various universities around the globe to explore quantum computing and push the boundaries of what the tech can do. In autumn 2013, they pushed the on button on a 512-qubit D-Wave Two quantum computer housed in their QuAIL Laboratory.
And if you had any doubts or questions as to why companies like Google and NASA would be investing so heavily in this area, then it’s probably worth noting what the ‘QuAIL’ part of the lab’s name stands for.
Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Parallel universes. Mathematical impossibilities. Artificial intelligence.
The future isn’t coming. We’re living in it.
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For more info on Quantum Computing, the D-Wave Supercomputer and QuAIL check out these great resources.
Thanks for reading.