The concept of quantum computing has been floating around for some time now. And researchers in different parts of the world have been ferocious in their endeavors to build a quantum computer that can be used for practical and relevant computing, not just for proof-of-concept purposes.
The hype about quantum computers is understandable. Unlike traditional computers we use today that process and store information in bits, a quantum computer relies on qubits (short for quantum bits). This difference might seem small, but in fact, it is absolutely massive ; hundred qubits can store more ‘bit’ information than there are atoms in the Universe.
Bits can only take on the form of 0 or 1. Qubits, on the other hand, can take on the form of 0, 1, or 0 and 1 simultaneously. This is made possible through the quantum weirdness known as superpositioning – the ability of being in two different states at once.
Superpositioning allows quantum computers to have extraordinary processing and computing speed.
Theoretically, a quantum computer can solve the most complex mathematical problems within a period of time that still makes the answer relevant. We’re talking about solutions to problems in fields like chemistry, finance, material science, medicine and physics. Scientists are also envisioning that a quantum computer could help the world solve its most pressing problems including global warming, overpopulation, lack of drinking water, even the problem with superbugs and antibiotic resistance.
Among the tech companies hard at work building their quantum computer, there’s a clear leader emerging: Google and their quest to achieve what they refer to as ‘quantum supremacy’. Put simply, achieving ‘quantum supremacy’ means being the first to build a truly functional quantum computer that can perform tasks that no other existing computer can.
A couple of months back, news came out that Google, through the group led by University of California professor John Martinis, was ready to put their 6-qubit quantum chip to the test. It was also mentioned then that they were already in the process of designing 30 – 50 qubit devices for their ‘quantum supremacy’ experiment which will require a 49-qubit grid.
More recently, at a conference held in Munich, Germany, one of Google’s engineers, Alan Ho, discussed how the company’s work on quantum computing is progressing. As reported by New Scientist, Ho revealed that he and his team are currently working with a 20-qubit system with a “two-qubit fidelity” of 99.5%. That percentage is a measure of accuracy, or the other side of it, the probability of making mistakes. The higher the rating, the more accurate and less error-prone the system is.
To achieve their goal of ‘quantum supremacy’, aside from a 49-qubit system, Google also has to attain a 99.7% “two-qubit fidelity” rating. Similar with Martinis, Ho expressed confidence that they’ll be able to deliver such system by the end of this year.
Ho is quick to point out, though, that it will take probably another 10 years before we have error-corrected or coherent systems that will allow quantum computers to function in a practical and scalable way. That said, however, he stresses that if they as a team will be able to successfully achieve quantum supremacy — proving that the use of qubits is superior to using bits — the achievement should be considered a major breakthrough in the field of quantum computing. And he is right given that this would be a game changer, in pretty much the same way microprocessors were in their days.