Apparently Google has achieved quantum supremacy by solving an impossible equation but to be honest I’m more bothered about whether it can help me explain exactly what that means.
The news comes from a paper titled ‘Quantum Supremacy Using a Programmable Superconducting Processor’, which appears to have been leaked as it was published on NASA’s website before subsequently being taken down.
According to the paper, Google’s quantum computer attained quantum supremacy by successfully performing a calculation known as a random sampling problem, which would be practically impossible for even the best supercomputer.
As per the Independent, the paper explains:
This dramatic speedup relative to all known classical algorithms provides an experimental realisation of quantum supremacy on a computational task and heralds the advent of a much-anticipated computing paradigm.
To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.
Quantum computers work by replacing the ones and zeros traditional computers use to store data with quantum bits, or ‘quibits’. Rather than being either a one or a zero, quibits make use of a quantum phenomena known as superposition, meaning they are able to act as both a one and a zero at the same time.
Are you still following? Don’t worry if not, I’m pretty baffled myself. You might not have guessed it but quantum computing actually isn’t my strong point.
Anyway, by making use of superposition quantum computing systems are theoretically able to be exponentially more powerful than traditional computers.
According to New Scientist, Google’s quantum processor contains 54 qubits. Though one of its qubits didn’t work, the remaining 53 were quantum entangled with one another and used to generate a set of binary digits and check their distribution was truly random.
The equation would have apparently taken the world’s best supercomputer 10,000 years to achieve but Google’s system managed it in three minutes and 20 seconds.
A paper released by a google researcher has claimed that quantum supremacy has been achieved. Quantum supremacy is when quantum computers can solve problems that classical computers practically cannot. The QC can solve a problem in 3:20 that a CC would take 10,000 years to solve. pic.twitter.com/1Z27PO6wnB
— Eigenbros (@eigenbros) September 21, 2019
Major technology firms like Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft have been investing huge amounts of resources in an attempt to be at the forefront of the new technology as it has the potential to change the way we approach security and communication as well as how we design new materials, build artificial intelligence and break encryption.
However, while Google claim to be the first to have achieved the near-impossible task in the report, they have not commented on the results since the apparent leak. You’d think if they really had cracked the equation, they’d be bragging about it.
According to New Scientist, the paper contains details of a quantum processor called Sycamore and identifies only one author, John Martinis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is known to have partnered with Google to build the hardware for a quantum computer.
News of Google’s apparent achievement has received mixed responses, with Dario Gil, head of research at IBM, calling the company’s claim ‘indefensible’, the Financial Times report.
On the other hand, Chad Rigetti, a former IBM executive, described the research as ‘profound’.
It’s very important for the industry to hit this milestone. It’s a big moment for humans and for science.
I’ll hold off on congratulating Google until their success has been confirmed but I will thank the company for creating a search engine which provides so much quantum computing-related information.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.