Google says it has achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ with super computer that ‘can complete TEN THOUSAND years’ work in just three minutes’
- Google created a test to put its Sycamore quantum processor through its paces
- The device had to produce random numbers using a specific quantum circuit
- Simulating the same work on even the fastest supercomputer is challenging
- Quantum machines may one day revolutionise complex computer-based tasks
- Applications could run from seeking new medicines to city planning and beyond
Google claims to have made a quantum computing breakthrough with a processor that performs in minutes work that would take classical computers 10,000 years.
This demonstration of so-called ‘quantum supremacy’ over conventional computers has been a goal of computing research for decades.
The findings show that making computers faster is achievable in the real world and there are no ‘hidden physical law’ to stop this, the researchers said.
Quantum computing is a fledgling technology which uses the weird world of quantum physics to achieve vastly sped-up information processing.
Normal, ‘classical’ computers store data as so-called ‘bits’ that can either be a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. Quantum bits — qubits — instead can be both at once.
This allows groups of qubits in a quantum computer to store more data using less energy than a classical computer could using the same number of bits.
Such devices may one day revolutionise tasks that would take normal computers years, such as seeking new drugs and optimising city and transportation planning.
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Google claims to have made a quantum computing breakthrough with a processor that performs in minutes work that would take classical computers 10,000 years
HOW DID EXPERTS DEMONSTRATE QUANTUM SUPREMACY?
To test their ‘Sycamore’ processor, Google designed a random-number sampling task specifically to put the quantum computer through its paces.
Sycamore was tasked with producing these numbers repeatedly using a specific quantum circuit.
This is a task that — as more quantum bits are used to build the circuit —becomes increasingly taxing for classical computers to simulate.
Google’s quantum processor produced a million random numbers in around 200 seconds.
This achievement, the team predict, would take a classical supercomputer around 10,000 years to complete.
Quantum computation supremacy is the ability of a quantum processor to solve problems that a classical computer practically cannot.
Big tech firms including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel are avidly pursuing quantum computing technology.
‘Quantum things can be in multiple places at the same time,’ said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist who is also the founder of quantum startup IonQ.
‘The rules are very simple, they’re just confounding.’
Google’s findings, however, are already facing pushback from other industry researchers.
A version of Google’s paper leaked online last month and other researchers caught a glimpse before it was taken down.
The paper showed that Google’s quantum processor, Sycamore, finished a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds — and that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer around 10,000 years to do the same thing.
However, IBM quickly took issue with Google’s claim that it had achieved ‘quantum supremacy’.
Researchers from IBM said that Google underestimated their conventional supercomputer — Summit, which is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee — and claimed it could actually do the calculation in 2.5 days.
Google has not commented on IBM’s claims.
Whether or not Google has achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ or not may matter to competitors, but the semantics could be less important for the field of quantum research, as the results indicate regardless that the field is maturing.
Researchers from IBM said that Google underestimated their conventional supercomputer — Summit, pictured, which is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee — and claimed it could actually do the calculation in 2.5 days
‘The quantum supremacy milestone allegedly achieved by Google is a pivotal step in the quest for practical quantum computers,’ wrote California Institute of Technology physicist John Preskill in Quanta Magazine.
Professor Preskill was the originator of the concept of ‘quantum supremacy’, which he put forward in a 2011 talk at the annual Solvay conference.
The findings, he added, mean that quantum computing research has entered a new phase — although a significant effect on society ‘may still be decades away.’
The calculation employed by Google has little practical use, Preskill noted, other than to test how well the processor works.
‘The more interesting milestone will be a useful application,’ he added.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.
WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The key to a quantum computer is its ability to operate on the basis of a circuit not only being ‘on’ or ‘off’, but occupying a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time.
While this may seem strange, it’s down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the behaviour of the particles which make up an atom.
At this micro scale, matter acts in ways that would be impossible at the macro scale of the universe we live in.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are either seen or interfered with.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit from a phosphorus atom precisely positioned in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to make the qubits ‘talk to one another
A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be either a ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ until it lands.
The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
While a classical computer has ‘bits’ made up of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has ‘qubits’ which can take on the value of zero or one, or even both simultaneously.
One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.
Google, IBM, and Intel are among companies competing to achieve this.
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