Researchers at Google have created a quantum computer, called Sycamore, that ran a task which would have taken a state-of-the-art supercomputer an estimated 10,000 years to do, in just 200 seconds.
Yes, imagine your up-to-date laptop computer on steroids where its power equalled the most powerful classical supercomputer on the planet. Now give it a task to complete and your powerful laptop on steroids would take 10,000 years to do what Google’s Sycamore recently did in 200 seconds.
To put this in perspective, it was around 10,000 years ago that humans began to realise they could cultivate crops. What’s more, it took us another 5000 years after that to fashion tools out of bronze so when a quantum computer can do something in just over three minutes compared to 10,000 years for the most powerful supercomputer, we’ve made quite the leap.
According to the researchers, this demonstrates quantum supremacy - when a programmable quantum computer outperforms the fastest classical supercomputer. The quantum processor was made up of 54 qubits, or quantum bits - which use the weirdness of sub-atomic particles to calculate numbers, but one did not function properly, so the device ran on 53 qubits.
One aim of quantum computing is to perform certain computational tasks exponentially faster than conventional classical computers. To achieve this goal, a number of challenges need to be addressed, such as generating a large computational space while keeping error rates low, and creating a benchmark test that should be difficult for a classical computer but easy for a quantum computer to complete.
“This demonstration of quantum supremacy over today’s leading classical algorithms on the world’s leading supercomputers is truly a remarkable achievement”, said William Oliver in the journal Nature.
However, he notes that more work needs to be done before quantum computers become a practical reality. Reason being , this was one experiment and quantum computing has a long way to go before it can be commercialised or be used practically.
In his article, Oliver compares Sycamore to the Wright brothers’ first flights. They changed the world but at the time the Wright Flyer didn’t have any real-world application. It’s the same with the latest advance in quantum computing.
Yet before suggesting we’re another 50 years away from the quantum computer equivalent of the jumbo jet, consider Moore’s Law, named after the co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore, who stated the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years and this growth is exponential. Nowadays, his law is applied to the rapid growth of all technology from social media to artificial intelligence. Apply it to quantum computing and we’re really not far away from heading back (or fast-forwarding) into time – now there’s a quandary for us all to ponder.