Google says it's achieved 'quantum supremacy' but IBM says nope

Thursday, 24 Oct, 2019

In the perplexing world of quantum physics it is quite normal for matter to inhabit two places at once.

In classical computers, bits can store information as either a 0 or a 1 in binary notation. Quantum bits - qubits - instead can be both at once.

Such devices may one day revolutionise tasks that would take normal computers years, such as seeking new drugs and optimising city and transportation planning.

Sycamore was tasked with producing these numbers repeatedly using a specific quantum circuit. Researchers said that the quantum computers will "never reign supreme" over classical computers.

In the realm of supercomputing, quantum processors are something of a holy grail.

The Summit system at Oak Ridge National Lab, a classical supercomputer that takes up two tennis courts' worth of floor space and can perform 200 quadrillion calculations per second, boasts a whopping 250 petabytes of storage - in bytes, that number comes out to about 250,000,000,000,000,000. In summary though, 2.5 days is not an unreasonable time for a computer to calculate a problem, so Google's Sycamore system hasn't demonstrated quantum supremacy, opines IBM. The quantum computer is constructed in a two-dimensional array of 54 transmon qubits, arranged in a rectangular lattice such that each qubit is connected to its four nearest neighbors.

"This achievement is the result of years of research and the dedication of many people, ' Google engineering director Hartmut Neven said in a blog post".

The research, which was originally published and then un-published last month, has been grabbing headlines over how Google allegedly accomplished "quantum supremacy", or when a quantum computer can solve a problem our current computers cannot. 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.

It had already been criticized by IBM, who argued that the paper was fundamentally flawed because Google had drastically overestimated the difficulty of the task and how long it would take on a classical computer. While Google's new feat is being praised by many, IBM researchers aren't very impressed.

In what can be termed as the achievement of the decade, Google has confirmed its "quantum supremacy" breakthrough, trumping IBM Q. "Quantum processors have thus reached the regime of quantum supremacy".

Quantum computing is complicated, but based on the idea that computers can incorporate aspects of quantum theory.

"New and better classical hardware, code optimizations to more efficiently utilize the classical hardware, not to mention the potential of leveraging GPU-direct communications to run the kind of supremacy simulations of interest, could substantially accelerate our simulation", they claim, adding that the term "quantum supremacy" is not only much misunderstood, but also misleading.

In a study published in Nature, the global team designed a quantum processer made up of 54 qubits and used it to perform a task related to random-number generation.

As quantum computing remains very much in its infancy, it's hard to imagine how and in what ways it might impact human society, though no-one disputes its potential to impact just about everything.