The Financial Times is reporting that a team of computer scientists from Google, led by physicist John Martinis of the University of California, Santa Barbara, have built a quantum computer that achieved quantum supremacy for the first time-the threshold where quantum computers demonstrate tremendous computing capabilities that are beyond the reach of even the world’s most advanced supercomputers.
The claim was made in a new scientific paper that was briefly published on a NASA website earlier this week before being removed.
Google struck a five-year collaboration agreement last year to use NASA’s petaflop-scale Pleiades supercomputer as benchmark for its supremacy experiment. According to the FT report, the paper reportedly said that Google’s 53-qubits quantum processor, dubbed “Sycamore,” completed a series of calculations in just over 3 minutes. That calculation would take 10,000 years on IBM’s Summit, the most powerful computer on the planet.
The researchers estimate that performing the same experiment on a Google Cloud server would take 50 trillion hours versus only 30 seconds it took on the quantum processor. They said that based on their knowledge, the experiment “marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”
Advancement in quantum computing technologies, which have received a lot of attention from researchers in academia as well by tech giants such as Google, IBM, and Intel, will potentially (if large-scale quantum computers are build and have the capability to solve and analyze complex problems arising in physics, biology, medicine and electrical engineering, to mention just a few) have a disruptive impact on our society in the next decades.
That said, it’s worth mentioning that as exciting as Google’s result is, other scientists caution against overhyping it, noting the new processor has yet to demonstrate its usefulness in practice.
“While this is a milestone, it is *very* far from being a quantum computer that can compute anything useful,” physicist Jonathan Oppenheim of University College London wrote on Twitter.
Dario Gil, head of IBM Research, told Sciencenews that quantum supremacy is not a useful benchmark. He described Google’s experiment as a scientific procedure designed to “implement one very specific quantum sampling procedure” that has “no practical applications.”
The Google team, though, appears more optimistic about the short-term prospects of its findings.
“We are only one creative algorithm away from valuable near-term applications,” the researchers write.
The central idea of Google’s statement and its paper for that matter, is that their reportedly successful “quantum supremacy experiment” is not only a fundamental breakthrough in the field of theoretical computer science and the way we perceive computation, but also an excellent lens through which to view converging exponential technologies. Indeed, Google’s quantum supremacy demonstration is the first experimental violation of the “extended Church-Turing thesis,” which says that a traditional computer can capture and solve any calculation that any other kind of computer can competently perform.
So when the search giant states its quantum supremacy experiment is “transitioning quantum computing” from a “research topic to a technology that unlocks new computational capabilities,” they are rightly implying that while new principles will always be challenged and questioned by believers in old principles, the reality is that the first demonstration of quantum supremacy is ushering the discipline of computer science and its algorithmic processes into a whole new world.
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