Google have achieved quantum supremacy

The Google-NASA achievement, if verified, would cross a major checkmark in terms of pure quantum power

Photo: Google Google's 72-qubit quantum computer

The fight for quantum supremacy might have just been tipped into Google's favor, with the search giant saying it has reached a major milestone towards the development of quantum computing.

In an now-deleted publication on NASA’s website, a group of researchers at Google led by John Martinis claimed last week that company's ‘Bristlecone’ quantum computer has successfully completed a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would have otherwise taken 10,000 years on IBM's Summit - the world's most powerful commercial computer.

The demo was a narrow technical test, meant to prove that figures spit out by a random number generator were in fact, truly random.

“This dramatic speed-up 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,” Google’s paper reads, as reported by The Financial Times.

The idea of quantum supremacy dates back to the early 1980s, when scientists like Richard Feynman, Yuri Mann, and Paul Benioff were sketching out the promise and potential of quantum computers. The first real premise of quantum computing is the speed with which it can make complex calculations, far faster than the classical computers. What could take a classical computer months or years to analyse through bits, a quantum computer could analyse exponentially faster through qubits. And it have been a great dream for Google.

Last year the company finally unveiled its 72-qubit quantum computer chip Bristlecone in March, saying at the time that it was "cautiously optimistic that quantum supremacy can be achieved". The company then agreed to use NASA’s supercomputers as the benchmark for quantum supremacy.
It is the however not yet clear why the research was quickly removed from NASA’s website and why, as of the time of this article’s writing, neither Google nor the space agency is responding to journalists’ requests for comment.

In the meantime, speaking to the FT, IBM’s head of research Dario Gil said that Google’s claim to have achieved quantum supremacy is “just plain wrong.” According to Gil Google’s system is a specialised piece of hardware designed to solve a single problem, and falls short of being a general-purpose computer. The statement however is not surprising, considering the fact that IBM is the fiercest competitor of Google in the race to develop quantum computers.

Earlier this year it unveiled the Q System One. Although it was still far from being a practical computing device, IBM’s breakthrough was to make it much more reliable than previous quantum machines. Usually, quantum computing chips are very unstable, and prone to interference from heat and electricity but IBM’s new design was able to minimise this interference.

Additionally, even if Google has achieved “quantum supremacy,” quantum computers themselves are still nowhere near ready for mainstream use. Scientists have not been able to successfully create a computer that does not experience errors. But once they become reality they will offer faster, more complex calculations and simulations being performed. They would also be able to create new drugs and solar panels, help develop artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, and even manage investment portfolios among many other incredible implications. So once you have a fully error-corrected quantum computer, "the sky’s the limit"

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