Why I’m rooting for D-Wave

I stumbled across an old post at Ars Technica by Chris Lee on adiabatic quantum computing that had some interesting things to say about peer review.  The last paragraph reads,

There are a couple of curious things about adiabatic quantum computation that are a bit disturbing. Many of their publications have sat in the arXiv pre-print archive without making it into a peer-reviewed journal. One important paper has been noted as withdrawn, yet it is still cited on blogs at D-Wave. This makes me distrustful of the results presented in the papers, and it worries me that some authors are simply abandoning peer-reviewed publication, especially since one of the key papers is receiving a fair few citations despite remaining unpublished. If D-Wave turns out to have achieved what it claims to have, this will represent a huge failure on the part of peer-reviewed literature, and that is equally troublesome, since peer review is supposed to be open to new ideas while filtering for logic and novelty.

Now, since then there actually have been a few papers on AQC that have made it into peer-reviewed journals, e.g. this one that took three years to get published despite the distinguished list of authors.  PRA and PRL have both started to publish papers on AQC, but it took awhile.

My own troubles with peer-review (at least in the quantum physics arena) are well-documented on this blog.  Part of my problem is that I think differently from other people and human beings tend not to like things that are different.  One might argue that this must lead to flaws, but, anecdotally, I played chess with someone recently who is pretty good.  It was a well-fought, close game.  Afterward he said he’d never seen the types of moves I’d made (and he’s one of these people who knows all the various strategies, etc.).  This is no surprise, since I do my own thing, i.e. I’m not all that familiar with all those classic strategies.  But my own style was good enough to push him to the very brink, though he finally won.

Anyway, I have long thought peer-review was shutting out some of the more innovative ideas in favor of ideas that don’t rock the boat much and, thus, don’t always lead to dramatic changes.  I also think the single-blind system – particularly with the advent of the arXiv – allows personal bias to filter in since the reviewer knows who the author is right off the bat.  I’m sure certain reviewers are biased against certain authors.  In fact I recall reading that Julian Schwinger ran into these sorts of problems later in his career.  At any rate, that’s why I hope D-Wave succeeds.  If they can successfully make an AQC it’s yet another knock on peer-review.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem of the insularity of the various communities and sub-disciplines, but that’s a topic for another post.


7 thoughts on “Why I’m rooting for D-Wave

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  1. I don’t think I really agree with you about this. Adiabatic Quantum computing is a subtle area because it is difficult to tell at first glance whether or not its power comes from the fact that it is analog, or whether it is restricted enough to be an essentially digital model of computing. It is also the case that the early papers made stronger than justified claims about the ability of these models to solve NP-complete problems. Therefore, it is not too surprising that there was a very long peer-review process and that it took a while for these issues to be sorted out.

    As for D-Wave, that is really a separate issue because it seems likely to me that their system is too decoherent to be considered a genuine adiabatic quantum computer.

    1. Hi Matt, we have been systematically measuring the noise spectral density in our qubits and using this to feed back into our fabrication line. We have been able to push 1/f noise down to be competitive with the best superconducting qubits in the literature. If you calculate the spectral broadening due to noise in these qubits, it is less than the tunneling energy and therefore the qubits are truly gapped objects and behaving as required to run adiabatic quantum optimization algorithms (see http://arxiv.org/abs/0909.4321).

      1. I’ve noticed that while there is a lot of criticism of d-wave whenever the criticism is refuted there are never any responses…

      2. The problem with people in general is that they (we) have a hard time admitting they’re (we’re) wrong.

  2. Then I think there needs to be a respectable journal dedicated to radical new ideas that rewards thinking outside the box – almost like a ‘brainstorming’ journal. Perhaps it would have a format that included open discussion following each paper (so maybe an electronic format would work). Initial review would be double-blind.

    In any case, I guess AQC wasn’t really my primary point. I’m very frustrated at the moment most notably because I think a lot of my problems would resolve themselves if I found a reliable collaborator. But I can’t seem to give my services away, let alone establish anything reliable. Plus I have pretty bad luck in this department. Take my Cerf-Adami paper for example. More than half-a-dozen people, including Barry Sanders, Frank Shroeck, Ken Wharton, etc. have helped me with various drafts. Last summer, Terry Rudolph spent a huge amount of time really going over it with a fine-toothed comb after saying on this very blog, “Frankly I am surprised you didn’t get it published despite those things I said above.” After Terry’s help, I ended up getting jerked around so badly by PRA that they actually acknowledged the “unfortunate circumstances” (this was via Jens Eisert) – but rejected it again, primarily on principle if I read it correctly. I have gotten so many different – often contradictory – comments on this paper that I have almost given up. But, knowing me, someone with a more well-respected name will end up getting the basic idea – that there’s a relation between Bell-type inequalities and the second law of thermodynamics – published down the road.

    I’m sorry, I’m ranting. But after the above problems, I decided to go “mainstream” and tackle some non-foundational problems even though I have a PhD in what is essentially foundations that was externally reviewed by Steven French who is a frequent collaborator of Redhead, Butterfield, Bub, Rickles, etc. So *someone* clearly saw potential in me. And I’m pretty good at picking new things up quickly. So my latest paper deals quantum channels and Birkhoff’s theorem. This paper met with some positive feedback in a few places, but a) I still couldn’t get a reliable collaborator for this project (even from someone at my own college) so I just finished it myself and b) I got the same tired response from editors (this time at JMP – it’s on appeal).

    After attending the first Anacapa Society workshop, I decided the quantum info/foundations community is very insular when compared to other sub-disciplines, though I failed to attract much interest in collaboration there either (though, once again, people are happy to use me to get administrative crap done).

    Perhaps my personality is grating. I have come to suspect that I have mild Asperger’s (my son has been diagnosed with it). But most physicists are socially awkward people, so what the fu©k? Apparently I’m just not the right kind of socially awkward.

    As I’ve said before on this blog, I am Charlie Brown, pure and simple. If I were completely bald you could even use my head to model your Halloween pumpkin.

  3. I hear ya. There are similar issues in Computer Science too, and there’s much less of an excuse, since it’s so easy to test and analyse things.

    The Distributed Operating Systems course I took was supposedly intended to get us familiar with reviewing literature and the current research in the field, but it mostly taught me that the current research is flabbergastingly wasteful. Yes, it’s so mind-blowing that I had to make up a ridiculous word to exress how much of a grant-grab the field of OS research has become. There are papers claiming things like that they expect to have 10^10 users paying them a monthly subscription fee to use their distributed system… that’s 10 billion people, 3.5 billion of which haven’t been born yet, and most of the rest don’t have the internet yet. It’s an extreme case (named OceanStore if you want to look it up), but peer-review paradoxically favours hypothetical ideas they’re used to over tested ideas that are new. This kind of non-scientific insanity gets published in journals, while legitimate, scientific research gets blocked for being too practical.

    Then there are other cases where it’s highly unlikely that any reviewer could have understood the paper, such as Chazelle’s supposed linear-time triangulation algorithm. One could probably count on a hand how many people in the world understand the paper. Even supposing one of those people could implement the algorithm, they never will, because if correct, it’s prohibitively complex and likely extremely slow for all but impossibly large polygons. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that the guy is one of the top Computational Geometry researchers in the world, but it seems strange for a journal to accept a paper that it can’t even understand.

    I’ll try to stick with the scientific method, even if many so-called “scientists” avoid it like the plague.

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