Google Says It Has Achieved "World-Changing" Quantum Supremacy

Some have disputed Google's claims.
Chris Young

Back in September, Google claimed it had attained 'Quantum supremacy' — meaning that its quantum computer system, Sycamore, had shown capabilities that a classical computer simply could not achieve.

Though some have disputed Google's assertion, claiming the search giant has not been fully transparent and is overstating Sycamore's achievements, Google has now released its findings in the journal Nature for all to read. The paper signals what may well be a significant step in computing.


A breakthrough in computing?

Quantum supremacy has long been touted as a great breakthrough for computing. Essentially, it proves that quantum computing is possible, as it means that a quantum computer has performed a calculation that a classical computer could not achieve within a realistic period of time.

Google's paper details how Sycamore, its 53-bit quantum computer, took only 200 seconds to perform a calculation that would have taken the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.

The study's authors say, "our experiment achieves quantum supremacy, a milestone on the path to full-scale quantum computing."

Criticism of Google's research

Two days before Google's Nature paper was released, IBM released a blog post criticizing Google's claim that they have achieved quantum supremacy.

The IBM researchers argue that Google has vastly overstated the difficulty of the task performed by its quantum system. The task, they say, would take approximately 2.5 days on a classical — not 10,000 years, as Google claims. What's more, it would be completed better on a classical computer.

A significant step

While Google might have greatly overhyped the capabilities of Sycamore, the research is still very significant, John Preskill, who coined the term 'quantum supremacy,' argues in a blog post.

In theory, quantum computing will enable impressive future technologies, and this is a big step — albeit one that has no real practical function, besides showing that a quantum computer can perform as hoped.

Quantum computing can help design better batteries, minimize emissions from intensive computing tasks, and help to create new medicine. Many proponents are claiming it will completely change our lives.

In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Google CEO Sundar Pichai compared Sycamore to the first flight by the Wright Brothers:

"The first plane flew only for 12 seconds, and so there is no practical application of that," he said. "But it showed the possibility that a plane could fly."

Though Google's work does have its detractors, it may be a significant stride towards much greater things.

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