Google claims quantum computing ‘supremacy’ in major milestone

Imagine a system that could execute a calcuation in 200 seconds that it would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to handle.

That's the breakthrough that a team of scientists working on Google's Sycamore machine announced on Wednesday, claiming "quantum supremacy" for the first time after publishing the results of their work in the journal Nature.

"This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm," the researchers write in the study's abstract.

The phrase "quantum supremacy" simply means that Google scientists have been able to use a quantum computer to solve a problem that would take an inordinately long time to solve with a normal computer.

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Photograph of the Sycamore processor

Photograph of the Sycamore processor (Erik Lucero, Research Scientist and Lead Production Quantum Hardware)

Typical data fragments, known as bits, which store information in computers, can do so as a 0 or 1. However, a quantum bit can be both 0 and 1 simultaneously, thus allowing an exponentially higher number of calculations to be performed.

Super-fast processing power enabled by quantum computing could herald in a new age of technological breakthroughs that humans can't even fathom in 2019.

Google has been working on this topic since at least 2006, when one of its scientists started looking into how quantum computing could aid the company's efforts to speed up machine learning.

"I am excited about what quantum computing means for the future of Google and the world. Part of that optimism comes from the nature of the technology itself. You can trace the progress from the mega-computers of the 1950s to advances we’re making in artificial intelligence today to help people in their everyday lives," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a statement.

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Artist's rendition of the Sycamore processor mounted in the cryostat. (Forest Stearns, Google AI Quantum Artist in Residence)

Artist's rendition of the Sycamore processor mounted in the cryostat. (Forest Stearns, Google AI Quantum Artist in Residence) (Forest Stearns, Google AI Quantum Artist in Residence)

According to Yahoo News, a rival team at IBM expressed skepticism about Google's claim.

In a blog post announcing the findings, Google's scientists said hope to make quantum-supremacy class processors available to collaborators and academic researchers, among others.

The tech giant said it envisions a range of potential real-world applications of the breakthrough, which will take years of work to bring to fruition, including "new materials — lightweight batteries for cars and airplanes, new catalysts that can produce fertilizer more efficiently (a process that today produces over 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions), and more effective medicines."

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"Quantum computing will be a great complement to the work we do (and will continue to do) on classical computers. In many ways quantum brings computing full circle, giving us another way to speak the language of the universe and understand the world and humanity not just in 1s and 0s but in all of its states: beautiful, complex, and with limitless possibility," Pichai added.

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