In October, Google announced that it had achieved the “quantum supremacy” milestone. The term refers to a situation when a quantum computer is able to make calculations much faster than conventional computers.
Google’s quantum computer
To test the supremacy of the quantum computer, Google ran an experiment where it was made to perform a calculation that involved 53 qubits. In quantum computing, a qubit refers to the basic unit of information. Its counterpart in traditional computing is the bit. The quantum computer uses a microchip called “Sycamore” that utilizes 53 looped wires through which the electric current flows at two different energies that represent 0 or 1. The chip is placed in a refrigerator that cools down the wires and causes them to behave like a superconductor. And for a moment, the energy levels act as qubits.
“Google estimated that its sampling calculation — the one that takes 3 minutes and 20 seconds on Sycamore — would take 10,000 years for 100,000 conventional computers, running the fastest algorithms currently known. Indeed the task was so hard… that even directly verifying the full range of the results on classical computers was out of reach for its team. Thus, to check the quantum computer’s work in the hardest cases, Google relied on plausible extrapolations from easier cases,” according to The New York Times.
So how does Google’s quantum computer change the world? For starters, it will revolutionize cryptography. Current high-end encryption uses technology that will take a normal supercomputer thousands of years to crack. But a quantum computer can break through the encryption in a matter of minutes. This is why intelligence agencies across the world give special attention to developments in the field of quantum computing. The country that develops a good quantum computer can essentially crack into all networks of an enemy country, bringing down their communications and satellites, access classified data, etc., in under a day.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will get a significant boost from quantum computing. The ability to process large amounts of data in minutes will allow AI systems to evolve at a much faster rate than currently possible. The fundamental sciences will enter a new age of exploration and experimentation, as researchers will be able to devise new materials and chemicals that will lead to improved and efficient products.
Challenging the claim
After Google declared achieving quantum supremacy, IBM came forward to challenge the claim. It pointed out that the problem used to test Google’s quantum computer will take its Oak Ridge Summit supercomputer only 2.5 days to solve. Google had said that the problem would take about 10,000 years for supercomputers to solve.
IBM also argued that Google has not achieved its target of quantum supremacy. “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 has their unique strengths,” the company said in a post.
However, while Google has tested its quantum computer and showed that it can solve the problem in about 3 minutes, IBM’s claim of solving the same in 2.5 days remains just a claim. IBM has not actually tested the problem on their supercomputers. Plus, the fact that a prototype quantum computer has already surpassed an advanced supercomputer itself shows that quantum computers are the future of this technology.