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Technology Explainer: Google hails 'quantum supremacy', but don't chuck out your PC just yet

23:45  23 october  2019
23:45  23 october  2019 Source:   reuters.com

Google reportedly attains 'quantum supremacy'

  Google reportedly attains 'quantum supremacy' Its quantum computer can solve tasks that are otherwise unsolvable, a report says.A new quantum computer from Google can reportedly do the impossible.

By Douglas Busvine

A handout picture shows a component of Google's Quantum Computer in the Santa Barbara lab© Reuters/HANDOUT A handout picture shows a component of Google's Quantum Computer in the Santa Barbara lab BERLIN (Reuters) - Researchers at Google say they have achieved 'quantum supremacy', in which a computer harnessing the properties of sub-atomic particles did a far better job of solving a problem than the world's most powerful supercomputer.

Given the task of finding a pattern in a seemingly random series of numbers, Google's quantum computer produced an answer in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. It estimates that the Summit supercomputer https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/summit-supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee would take 10,000 years to complete the task.

Google may have just ushered in an era of ‘quantum supremacy’

  Google may have just ushered in an era of ‘quantum supremacy’ ‘The first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor’Google’s quantum computer was reportedly able to solve a calculation — proving the randomness of numbers produced by a random number generator — in 3 minutes and 20 seconds that would take the world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, Summit, around 10,000 years. This effectively means that the calculation cannot be performed by a traditional computer, making Google the first to demonstrate quantum supremacy.

According to Google, such a huge win fulfils the accepted definition of supremacy. Simply put, this entails solving a computing task that a conventional computer would struggle to, or never, complete.

But what does that actually mean in the research context, and when will quantum computing affect us? Here's an explainer:

WHAT IS 'QUANTUM SUPREMACY'?

Quantum supremacy is a holy grail for researchers in the field: It's when the superior potential of quantum computing is finally achieved in practice - effectively superseding existing forms of computing.

WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT QUANTUM COMPUTING?

Google may have taken first step towards quantum computing 'supremacy'

  Google may have taken first step towards quantum computing 'supremacy' Google may have made a breakthrough on the path toward creating a viable quantum computer. In a research paper briefly published to NASA's website and only seen by the Financial Times, the company reportedly claims to have achieved a feat known as "quantum supremacy." That is, the search giant says it has successfully created a computer that's able to complete a calculation that is virtually impossible for traditional computers to perform. Google says Sycamore, its 53-qubit quantum computer, was able to calculate a proof in three minutes and 20 seconds that shows the numbers created by a random number generator are in fact random.

Conventional computers use 'bits' - or ones and zeroes - as the basis of their calculations. In simple terms these represent 'yes' and 'no', or 'on' and 'off'. In combination, bits can be used to handle logical tasks.

Quantum computing makes use of a property of sub-atomic particles in which they can simultaneously exist in different states. A quantum bit, or qubit, can thus be both one and zero at the same time. In the jargon, this is called superposition.

WHAT MAKES QUANTUM COMPUTERS SO POWERFUL?

Another property of sub-atomic particles is for them to become 'entangled' - meaning that they can influence each other's behavior in an observable way.

Combining entanglement with superposition leads to exponential increases in computing power with each additional qubit.

The Sycamore processor designed by Google, a unit of Silicon Valley technology giant Alphabet, had 54 qubits arranged in a two-dimensional grid. In the experiment only 53 could be made to work - still enough to produce a successful result.

IBM questions Google quantum computing claims

  IBM questions Google quantum computing claims IBM has publicly called out Google's claim that it reached quantum supremacy.Quantum supremacy is a concept which was originally put forth by Caltech professor John Preskill and in order to reach it, a company would need to demonstrate that a quantum computer could do something that today's classical computers cannot.

WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG TO GET HERE?

Physicists have been talking about quantum computing for over 30 years, but the challenges of making them work are daunting.

The qubits need to be cooled to just above absolute zero to reduce 'noise' - or vibration - that introduces errors into the calculations made by a quantum computer.

Google's researchers, in solving the problem with a high degree of fidelity - or accuracy - can reasonably claim to have achieved a significant milestone, say physicists.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT OLD COMPUTERS ARE FINISHED?

Critics, including rival IBM , say Google is hyping its achievement and creating the misleading impression that quantum computers have effectively rendered all conventional computers obsolete.

By adding disk storage the Summit supercomputer - which is made by IBM - could have solved Google's random number problem in at most 2-1/2 days, with greater accuracy, they say.

Sceptics also argue that Google has only solved a very narrow task, and that quantum computing is still a long way away from practical use. In the real world, quantum computers are likely to work in harness with classical computers, making use of their respective strengths.

Google says it's achieved quantum supremacy

  Google says it's achieved quantum supremacy Google is standing by its claim that it's achieved quantum supremacy -- marking a major milestone in computing research. The company first made the claim back in September, and while disputed by competitors, Google's research paper has now been published in the scientific journal Nature. Quantum supremacy is a big deal, because it encapsulates the ability of quantum computers to solve problems that current technology couldn't even begin toQuantum supremacy is a big deal, because it encapsulates the ability of quantum computers to solve problems that current technology couldn't even begin to attempt.

SO WHAT'S NEXT?

Researchers from the Google AI research team see potential uses for quantum computing in fields such as machine learning, and materials science and chemistry. They admit, though, that still-greater accuracy will be needed to bring those use cases into the real world.

Cryptographers are, meanwhile, already preparing for the day when quantum computers might be used to crack the codes used, for example, to secure online access to bank accounts. So, even before quantum computing becomes widely used, 'post-quantum cryptography' is already here.

IS GOOGLE IN THE LEAD?

Google, with its 'quantum supremacy' headline, is staking a claim to leadership in the field but IBM is a close rival. Applied research is growing and startups are springing up too - it's possible to book time on a quantum computer hooked up to a cloud server to do research work.

China, which has invested heavily in fields such as artificial intelligence, is also backing quantum computing - making it another front in its evolving trade and technology cold war with the United States.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mark Potter)

Google Confirms It Has Achieved Quantum Supremacy. Now What? .
IBM has already refuted its competitor's claim.Google announced today that it has finally pulled off the computing benchmark, after a leak last month hinted at the feat. The company claims its quantum computer runs on a 54-qubit chip called Sycamore and took only 3 minutes and 20 seconds to calculate a problem that would take the world’s fastest computer 10,000 years to solve, Google says.

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