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Google makes advances in quantum technology

The publication of a new study, which took place in Nature, referred to the achievement of so-called “quantum superiority” by Google engineers after the controversy of recent weeks that resulted from the fact that part of the document had leaked and had previously been published online. The document itself was deleted.

According to the study, an experimental quantum processor developed by Google engineers would have performed a very complex calculation in minutes that a traditional supercomputer would take thousands of years to perform. These results show, as stated in the same document, that “quantum acceleration is achievable in a real system and is not excluded by any hidden physical laws.”

Google’s quantum processor, Sycamore, would actually have done a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds. A supercomputer, even the fastest in the world, would take about 10,000 years to do the same calculation. This would indeed represent the achievement of “quantum superiority.”

In particular, as reported in the abstract of the study, Google engineers used “a processor with programmable superconducting qubits to generate quantum states on 53 qubits,” which takes about 200 seconds to scan an instance of a quantum circuit millions of times: a task that would take about 10,000 years for an avant-garde supercomputer.

IBM immediately denied the new document on the grounds that Google would not consider the currently largest and most powerful non-quantum supercomputer called Summit, which could do the same calculation in just 2.5 days.

Summit was developed by IBM and is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Google has not yet commented on IBM’s statements.

However, according to John Preskill, professor at Caltech who coined the term “quantum superiority,” this would be a milestone and a fundamental step toward building practical quantum computers, a new phase that would “have a significant impact on society.” According to Preskill, the actual milestone will be a useful application developed with a quantum computer. In fact, at the moment we are still confronted with results achieved in what appears to be a more competitive competition between experienced computer engineers, far from having any practical impact.


Background info and sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1666-5

Image source:

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/tAoyDZePJy8L7_x84-5Bsxg5200=/0x0:1000×602/1200×800/filters:focal(420×221:580×381)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/65535695/Sycamore_Rainbow_cropped.max_1000x1000.0.jpg

Martin Hill

An accomplished journalist and freelancer, Martin has held a long career in media and has worked for numerous different agencies. He was an editor for the Arizona Business Gazette for over 10 years before joining the Tucson Weekly (tucsonweekly.com) and founding Science of Change, a new publication with the aim of reporting on science news over the internet. Beyond having extensive writing and research experience, Martin is also a science enthusiast with a passion for science and technology. In his younger life, he had studied mechanical engineering before moving on to journalism.
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