Quantum leap in computing as scientists claim 'supremacy'

Joanna Estrada
October 25, 2019

That, uh, preview gave other quantum researchers time to deliberate over Google's experiment and thesis, and not everybody is convinced that the era of quantum supremacy has truly dawned.

Google researchers claim to have made a major breakthrough in quantum computing, after creating a processing chip which can perform calculations significantly faster than classic supercomputers computers. Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that the company started exploring the possibility of quantum computing in 2006. Google mentioned that they were able to achieve this because of the quality of control they have over the qubits. Also known as superposition, it is this process which lies at the heart of quantum computing and would allow it to solve those problems which are beyond the computational capabilities of a present day computer.

Quantum supremacy is a big deal, because it encapsulates the ability of quantum computers to solve problems that current technology couldn't even begin to attempt.

Theoretically, Sycamore's computational power means that researchers, developers, and other technologically-driven companies would be able to drive yet-to-be-released technologies, such better battery designs, new cures and medical solutions in the field of medicine.

Despite the excitement Google is trying to drum up around the achievement, there's cause to temper expectations. After all, what good is an ultra-powerful processor if it can't be used for any real-world application.

Under the hood, this "new task" to test the quantum supremacy system is to generate random numbers.

A rival team at IBM has already expressed scepticism about their claim.

Google has announced that it has achieved "quantum supremacy" - the point where a quantum computer successfully performs an operation considered impossible for traditional computers. We checked the performance of the quantum computer using classical simulations and compared with a theoretical model.

Despite the significance of the latest findings, Oliver argues that more research needs to be conducted in order to make quantum computers a practical reality.

The qubit circuits of Google's quantum computer Sycamore.

"This is an exciting scientific achievement for the quantum industry, and another step on a long journey towards a scalable, viable quantum future", Microsoft, one of Google's competitors in the realm of quantum computing, said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.

Pichai called the success of Sycamore the "hello world" moment of quantum computing.

But Preskill, who coined the term in 2012, wrote in Quanta that he aimed to convey the notion that "this is a privileged time in the history of our planet", when the most arcane laws of physics might be harnessed for human ambitions. While Sycamore's 200 seconds still fares much better than Summit's 60-odd hours, that timeframe isn't unheard of in the world of supercomputers, meaning the quantum supremacy "threshold has not been met". "It also further combats criticisms about the controllability and viability of quantum computation in an extraordinarily large computational space (containing at least the 253 states used here)". "But more fundamentally, because quantum computers will never reign "supreme" over classical computers, but will rather work in concert with them, since each have their unique strengths", they added.

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