If you follow technology news at all, you will have noticed over the weekend many articles talking about Google reaching Quantum Supremacy. This week I would like to talk a little about what that means. First you need to understand a little bit about Quantum Computing and Classic Computing.
Classic Computing is what runs your smart phone, The Licking News website, Google’s Search, and the word processor I am using to write this article. Classic computing works on the concept of a bit, which for lack of a better example is like a light switch; it is either on or off. Everything a computer does is based on the conditions of millions of these simple on/off switches.
Quantum Computing is based off a Quantum Bit, or Qubit. A Qubit is a strange thing that exists in a state somewhere between on and off, called superposition. You could think of it as a dimmer switch that lets you adjust the brightness of the light in your room. They can also be entangled, which is like wrapping a rubber band around two dimmer switches so that both lights act together. These two properties make it possible to solve extremely large computational problems very fast. A quantum computer with 40 qubits has the same memory capacity as a classic computer with six trillion bits.
Quantum Supremacy is loosely defined as the point in time that a quantum device solves a problem that can not be solved using a classic computer of any size. A problem exists with this definition, because computers are continuing to get faster, the target of Quantum Supremacy is always moving. Three years ago it was thought that a 40-qubit system would reach supremacy, now that has climbed to over 50-qubits.
There has been very little information released on what the “problem” was that Google solved late last week with their Quantum processor that resulted in the claim of being the first to reach quantum supremacy. A paper, titled “Quantum Supremacy Using a Programmable Superconducting Processor,” was briefly published to NASA’s website but was taken down within a few hours. The paper described how Google’s processor completed this unknown task in 200 seconds, which would take NASA’s state-of-the-art supercomputer 10,000 years to perform.
“This dramatic speedup relative to all known classical algorithms provides an experimental realization of quantum supremacy on a computational task and heralds the advent of a much-anticipated computing paradigm,” the paper states. “To our knowledge, the experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”
Mainstream technology press organizations have been reaching out to Google for the last several days asking for comments on the supposedly leaked paper, but as of yet there is no comment from Google. I for one am interested to see the final outcome and if quantum computers have truly surpassed our current technology.