The Meaning of Google’s “Quantum Supremacy”
Here’s what quantum supremacy does—and doesn’t—mean for computing
Excerpts and salient points ~
+ Doesn’t this speedup mean quantum machines can overtake other computers now?
+ No. Google picked a very narrow task. Quantum computers still have a long way to go before they can best classical ones at most things—and they may never get there. But researchers I’ve spoken to since the paper appeared online say Google’s experiment is still significant because for a long time there have been doubts that quantum machines would ever be able to outstrip classical computers at anything.
“Google achieving quantum computing is a huge deal. It means, among many other things, that no code is uncrackable.”
Nonsense. It doesn’t mean that at all. Google’s achievement is significant, but quantum computers haven’t suddenly turned into computing colossi that will leave conventional machines trailing in the dust. Nor will they be laying waste to conventional cryptography in the near future—though in the longer term, they could pose a threat we need to start preparing for now.
+ Until now, research groups have been able to reproduce the results of quantum machines with around 40 qubits on classical systems. Google’s Sycamore processor, which harnessed 53 qubits for the experiment, suggests that such emulation has reached its limits. “We’re entering an era where exploring what a quantum computer can do will now require a physical quantum computer… You won’t be able to credibly reproduce results anymore on a conventional emulator,” explains Simon Benjamin, a quantum researcher at the University of Oxford.
+ So what’s the next quantum milestone to aim for?
+ Besting conventional computers at solving a real-world problem—a feat that some researchers refer to as “quantum advantage.” The hope is that quantum computers’ immense processing power will help uncover new pharmaceuticals and materials, enhance artificial-intelligence applications, and lead to advances in other fields such as financial services, where they could be applied to things like risk management.
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