Google announces it’s developed a practical quantum computer

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Google officially claims that it has achieved quantum supremacy.
Image: Nature

On Wednesday, Google announced that its Santa Barbara, California research lab has achieved quantum supremacy. In a paper published in Nature, the firm explained that its quantum computer completed a task in minutes that a classical computer would need several millennia to perform. Scott Aaronson, a computer specialist at the University of Texas Austin, compared Google’s achievement to the Wright brothers’ first flight.

What Did Google’s Quantum Computer Do?

The Burn-In reported on Google’s quantum breakthrough last month when its Nature paper leaked online. In that document, Google’s researchers detailed how the machine is capable of performing calculations that no classical computer can replicate. The corporation noted that its quantum computer executed a mathematical computation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would take the most advanced supercomputer 10,000 years.

Consequently, Google’s position is that its system has achieved “quantum supremacy.” The term refers to the point at which a quantum machine bypasses the functionality of a classical computer.

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Data scientists first developed the concept of mechanical quantum computation in the late ‘80s. Traditional computers use a binary bit system of ones and zeros to perform calculations. Conversely, quantum machines operate using a completely different principle. They utilize quantum bits (qubits) that can simultaneously hold a value of one, zero, or anything in between. Accordingly, as they can combine qubits, quantum computers have an exponential computational capacity.

Alibaba, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Tencent, and many other firms have spent billions of dollars in hopes of developing a reliable quantum computer. However, the process has been difficult as qubits are extraordinarily fragile and can only function at near-zero degree temperatures. Consequently, quantum computing has proven unreliable.

According to Google’s data scientists, the machine, which utilizes 53 entangled qubits, has surpassed that limitation. However, the Big Tech firm’s innovation isn’t ready for commercial applications just yet. Researchers who reviewed the corporation’s paper noted that its tests involved esoteric calculations with limited practical use.

Nevertheless, the firm’s breakthrough indicates that, with further research, functional non-classical calculation is possible. Indeed, Google’s paper states that its quantum machine will be capable of computation at a “double exponential” rate.

IBM Objects

Though many technologists and corporations have expressed enthusiasm at Google’s breakthrough, IBM is a notable exception. In a Monday blog post, the legacy brand argued that the calculation Google’s machine performed could be replicated by a classical computer in 2.5 days. The corporation even submitted a preprint paper to Cornell University to back up its claims.

Notably, IBM introduced its own quantum computer at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The firm’s radical machine uses the same number of qubits as Google’s, but it didn’t break the quantum supremacy barrier.

In response to IBM’s accusations, Google stood by its research and said that it has “Peeled away from classical computers, onto a totally different trajectory.”

Applications of Quantum Computing

The world’s leading technology companies are trying to commercialize quantum computing because of its many potential applications. For instance, IBM wants to use its quantum computer to provide weather forecasting that’s 200 percent more accurate than current models. Furthermore, Accenture has theorized that non-classical machines could greatly expedite the process of discovering new medicines.

Besides, the United States and China have committed billions to develop “post-quantum” cryptography. In 1994, mathematician Peter Shor created an algorithm that would allow a sufficiently robust quantum system to crack existing encryption schemes. Due to the national security implications of such advancement, the world’s superpowers have invested heavily in quantum computing.

China has committed to spending $400 million to develop a national quantum lab. Moreover, last year, the Communist nation registered 517 quantum communications and cryptology patents. Comparatively, the United States only registered 117 patents of that type in 2018.

Aware of the discrepancy, the Trump administration authorized the National Quantum Initiative Act last December. The legislation earmarked $1.2 billion for quantum computing and cryptology research over the next five years.

Given the potential impact of Google’s quantum supremacy breakthrough, however, both nations may want to increase their research spending.