Most sci-fi movies include what writers think advanced technology will look like in the future. Fights are waged with lasers, robots, time travel, teleportation, or dance moves. Last week, Google published some bold claims in the field of quantum computing. If you’re not familiar with quantum computing, this explanation will sound like we ripped it straight out of a sci-fi movie. It’s very, very real, and two companies are now waging a sci-fi battle with words.
What is Quantum Computing?
Conventional computers boil everything down to ones and zeros when performing calculations. In simple terms, each “one” or “zero” can be thought of as an “on/off” switch. These are called bits. Every task performed by your computer uses a myriad of these bits combined to represent data.
Instead of binary bits, quantum computers use subatomic particles that can be both “on” and “off” at the same time. While in this state, these particles become quantum bits or qubits. Quantum processing measures the way qubits become “entangled” with each other and runs the interaction through a series of algorithms. Quantum processing happens so fast that it makes modern supercomputers look like toasters. Every qubit in the processor exponentially increases the computing power.
In 2012, John Preskill proposed that “quantum supremacy” would be achieved when a quantum computer could do something that conventional computers could not. Last week, Google claimed they’ve achieved that “quantum supremacy” via the results of a recent test published in the scientific journal Nature. In this test, Google states that their processor, Sycamore, “performed a computation in 200 seconds that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.”
A handful of companies are working on their own quantum processors, but IBM may be Google’s only real rival. Coincidentally, IBM also makes the world’s fastest conventional supercomputer, Summit. Naturally, they took exception to Google’s statement.
In their own report, IBM states that simply increasing storage would allow Summit to perform that same computation in 2.5 days with greater accuracy. While that’s a vast improvement over 10,000 years, it still falls far short of 200 seconds. However, it casts doubt on Google’s claim to “quantum supremacy.”
What Does This Mean?
In the future, we could see quantum computers make significant contributions to artificial intelligence, physics, and chemistry. However, we’re not there yet. You can’t go looking for a quantum computer at the moment. The technology is still being developed. Additionally, IBM claims that quantum computers will never supplant conventional computers. At best, they’ll work together. We’re looking forward to it. Who doesn’t want a faster computer?