Google claims quantum supremacy but not everyone is buying it

Eric Abent - Oct 23, 2019, 9:34 am CDT
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Google claims quantum supremacy but not everyone is buying it

Quantum computing is something that companies have been working toward for years, but today, Google announced a pretty big step forward on that front. Today Google claimed that it has achieved “quantum supremacy” – in other words, it’s claiming that it has built a quantum computer that can do things no classical computer can. That’s a big boast, but before you get too excited, we still have a very long way to go before quantum computing takes over.

The driving idea behind quantum computing research is that quantum computers will be able to perform some computational tasks exponentially faster than classical computers can, potentially opening up the door to major strides in technological advancement. Google’s experiment with quantum computing did just that – its 53-qubit processor, dubbed Sycamore, was able to perform a certain computation in 200 seconds. Google estimates that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to perform that same task.

Google’s experiment, along with the construction of Sycamore, is detailed in a paper published in Nature today. While this is big news indeed, it doesn’t mark the end of classical computing as we know it. We’re still a long way off from quantum computers entering widespread use, but in an interview with MIT Technology Review, Google CEO Sundar Pichai likened this achievement to the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

That initial flight only lasted 12 seconds, so while it didn’t immediately make airplanes a viable form of travel, it was a very notable stepping stone on the path to that happening. Still, not everyone is buying this notion that quantum supremacy has been achieved. After Google’s paper on quantum supremacy leaked out last month, IBM – which is also conducting research into quantum computing and has a 53-qubit processor of its own – started working on a response.

It published that response a couple of days ago, disputing Google’s claim that Sycamore was able to perform a computation that would take a classical supercomputer 10,000 years. IBM explains that “an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity.” IBM goes so far as to say that’s a “conservative, worst-case estimate,” so it’s possible that a classical computer could run the computation in an even shorter amount of time.

So, Google’s claims aren’t arriving free of disputes. Any way you slice it, though, the work that both Google and IBM are doing in the quantum computing space is exciting, and it shows that a day where quantum computers are working alongside classical computers may not be so far off.


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