Google claims 'quantum supremacy'; others say hold on a qubit

Friday, 25 Oct, 2019

Companies such as Google, Intel, Microsoft, and IBM are all vying for quantum supremacy and it appears, for now at least, that Google has pulled ahead of the competition. The scientists claimed this process was hundreds of millions of times faster than any existing supercomputer.

In essence, by harnessing the power of sub-atomic particles that can be in multiple states at the same time, Google has been able to do something that would simply not otherwise be possible. While the achievement is called quantum supremacy, it doesn't mean that quantum computers are suddenly more capable than classical computers, since Google's quantum computer only beat the competition at a single, highly contrived problem. "We are able to achieve these enormous speeds only because of the quality of control we have over the qubits", he said. For instance, Google believes that Sycamore could very well result in lighter batteries for cars and airplanes, better medicines, and more efficient catalysts for producing fertilizer that don't emit insane amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

A photo provided by Google shows, from left, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, and a Google researcher with Google's quantum computer machine.

"For those of us working in science and technology, it's the "hello world" moment we've been waiting for - the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to date to make quantum computing a reality", Pichai wrote in a blog. To problem is designing a quantum computer whose qubits don't fail due to decoherence caused by vibrations, temperature fluctuations, electromagnetic waves and other interactions with the outside environment, which ultimately destroys the exotic quantum properties of the computer.

There is quite a bit of technobabble to trudge through, but the gist of the argument is that Google's experiment proves its Sycamore hardware is leaps and bounds better than anything else, based on a random number checking algorithm it ran. IBM also mentioned that it can be further reduced. They also unveiled the first commercial quantum computer back at CES this year, so they couldn't take Google's claim of quantum supremacy at face value. The only sure thing is that the quantum computer wars are only starting to heat up. Quantum computing could be useful in understanding complex areas of chemistry, engineering and physics.

"Quantum computing is still in its infancy, but this transformative achievement rockets us forward", said Eugene Tu, center director at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Word that a Google-led team of researchers had achieved "quantum supremacy" with a new type of computer chip leaked out weeks ago, but today's publication of the team's study in the journal Nature gave outsiders their first good look at what was done.

One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.

"It shows that quantum computing is here for real and a significant player on the computing landscape", said Joseph Emerson, a faculty member at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing.

Considering IBM's claims, maybe it's a bit too early to open the champagne.

"Although an accurate demonstration of "supremacy" obviously increases the odds of "utility", the big challenge now remains that of building a quantum computer at scale". In the end, though, IBM is not disparaging of quantum computing, it just takes issue with Google's assertion that Sycamore is the first example of a quantum computer doing something a classical computer is unable to do.