Researchers from Google published a study in the journal Nature on “Quantum supremacy”: they solved a mathematical problem in 200 seconds using a quantum computer, saying that it would take 10,000 years on a traditional supercomputer. IBM believes the comparison is incorrect, but scientists still see it as an important milestone.
Traditional computers store data in bits that assume values 0 and 1. In turn, quantum computing is based on a principle called “superposition”: this means that a quantum bit (or qubit) can assume values 0 and 1 at the same time. .
This is not exactly intuitive, but it is one of the characteristics of quantum physics. “The universe operates fundamentally on a quantum level, but humans don’t see it that way,” explains Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, in a statement. “In fact, many principles of quantum mechanics directly contradict our superficial observations of nature.”
Since qubits can store more information than traditional bits, a quantum computer is capable of analyzing multiple solutions to the same problem at the same time. Google researchers say that this technology has finally surpassed a traditional computer.
The article published in Nature involves a quantum computer called Sycamore with 53 qubits. It took only 200 seconds to perform a calculation involving the generation of random numbers. The researchers say the world’s fastest supercomputer, the IBM Summit, would do the same in 10,000 years.
IBM: classic computer would solve problem in 2.5 days
IBM disagrees. The company points out a flaw in the article: Google researchers did a simulation to estimate that the supercomputer would take 10,000 years to solve the problem, but considered that it would only use RAM, not disk storage.
According to IBM, Summit would be able to reach the solution within 2.5 days; she says this is a pessimistic estimate, and the timeframe could be shorter with further refinements.
Google responds in a statement to New York Times: “We have already taken off from classical computing and have taken a totally different path; we are open to proposals to improve simulation techniques, although it is crucial to test them on a real supercomputer, as we did ”.
The opinion of the creator of the term “quantum supremacy”
John Preskill, who coined the term “quantum supremacy” in 2012, note in an article that Google researchers chose a very specific topic just to demonstrate how a quantum computer could be superior; “It is not a problem of much practical interest”.
Still, Preskill considers this demonstration to be important: “the team confirmed that it understands the device and that it works as it should; now that we know the hardware is working, we can start looking for more useful applications. ”
Hartmut Neven, director of engineering for the Google AI Quantum team, believe that quantum computing can help improve artificial intelligence and machine learning. It could also solve problems like “designing better batteries, finding out which molecules could produce effective medicines, or minimizing emissions from creating fertilizers.”