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Oct 28 2019

Is Quantum Computing Supremacy a reality?

Google claims that for the first time an advanced computer has achieved "quantum supremacy", surpassing the performance of conventional devices. But is it trully an historical milestone?

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According to Google’s estimates, its Sycamore quantum computer was able to complete a problem in 200 seconds that a supercomputer would need more than 10,000 years to solve. Google’s scientists, who have been working on quantum computers for decades because they promise much faster speeds, think they’ve achieved a historical computing milestone.

However, it’s only in a single and contrived problem that Sycamore is able to achieve awesome results - the chip would fail in a race with a supercomputer to add two and two together.

Hartmut Neven, a Google engineering director, came up in Sycamore’s defense, stating that “One criticism we’ve heard a lot is that we cooked up this contrived benchmark problem, and Sycamore doesn’t do anything useful yet. That’s why we like to compare it to a Sputnik moment. Sputnik didn’t do much either. All it did was circle Earth. Yet it was the start of the Space Age.”

In opposite to the classical computers, where the unit of information is called a "bit" and can have a value of either 1 or 0, in a quantum system - the qubit (quantum bit) - can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. This phenomenon opens the door for multiple calculations to be performed simultaneously.

Nonetheless, the enthusiasm is not all over the place, and IBM released a blog post questioning some of Google's figures: "We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity," stated researchers Edwin Pednault, John Gunnels, and Jay Gambetta. "This is in fact a conservative, worst-case estimate, and we expect that with additional refinements the classical cost of the simulation can be further reduced."

Google's definition of quantum supremacy was also queried, because it could allegedly lead to mislead: "First because... by its strictest definition the goal has not been met. But more fundamentally, because quantum computers will never reign 'supreme' over classical computers, but will rather work in concert with them, since each have their unique strengths."

Nuno Costa

 

About the Author:

Nuno Costa

Channel Business Development Associate

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