IBM's Team Proved Quantum Computers Do 'Impossible' Things

A new study from computer scientists finally proves the 'quantum advantage' is real and gives new insights into the power of quantum computing.
Shelby Rogers

For decades, quantum computing held promises for the future of advanced technologies. Now, researchers finally know exactly how extensive those quantum capabilities can be. 

Teams from IBM, the University of Waterloo, and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) published the results of a quantum computing experiment that prove quantum computing has a "quantum advantage."

Previous research has shown there are algorithms that theoretically couldn't operate on a classical computing system. However, it wasn't until now that those theories have been proven. 

How conventional computing works

Normal computers obey the laws of physics. They use the binary system -- zeroes and ones -- to operate. Those numbers are later stored and used for calculations. In traditional memory units, tiny bits are represented by charges that determine if a bit is set to zero or one. 

Quantum computers offer much more flexibility, however, as they don't quite play by the 'rules' of standard physics. Quantum computers allow bits to be both zero and one simultaneously. Quantum physics allows electrons to occupy multiple states at one time, and qubits exist in overlapping states. 


This is called superpositioning, and it gives quantum computers the freedom to perform several operations on values in one go. This differs from a standard computer that would have to process these operations sequentially. 

While computer scientists had a general understanding of the differences, the IBM study confirmed just how powerful quantum systems are compared to standard computers. 

The researchers demonstrated the advantages of quantum computing by making a quantum circuit that solves a specific algebraic problem. The circuit has a relatively simple structure, and thus it has a 'constant depth.' The researchers used this problem to prove that their problem was solved faster and more efficiently by quantum computing than a classical circuit. The team found the efficiency came from the quantum algorithm exploiting the non-locality of quantum physics. 

TUM’s Robert Konig helped lead the teams responsible for the discovery. 

Konig told “Our result shows that quantum information processing really does provide benefits—without having to rely on unproven complexity-theoretic conjectures.”

What it means for the future

There's nothing tangible yet from this new research. However, it means physicists have a better grasp as to why quantum computing could be revolutionary in solving some of the world's most complex problems. 

This whole experiment was largely conducted to simply prove it could be done, as the researchers noted in their explanation of the process. However, that's the point of the proof. By proving quantum advantage exists, more emphasis could be put on finding efficient and more affordable quantum computing solutions. 

"The mathematics underlying quantum computing is ultimately as important as the shiny cryostats we construct to hold our quantum devices," the IBM team explained on their website. "The scientific advancements at all levels need to be celebrated to show that quantum computing is real, serious, and on the right path to what we hope will be significant advantages in many application areas."