Has Google won the race for quantum supremacy? The company recently published its accomplishment in the scientific journal, Nature (Photo from Google)


Back in September, Google made the bold claim that it had achieved quantum supremacy. The company is sticking by its claim in its newly published research paper in the scientific journal Nature. The paper details how Google’s 53-bit quantum computer, Sycamore, took only 200 seconds to perform a calculation that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.


The calculation was achieved with a chip with only 53 qubits, which are the quantum version of the bits found in traditional computers. Google researchers put Sycamore to the test by having the system perform a task called random circuit sampling. This is where the team performed a sequence of randomized operations on the qubits. The values of the qubits were then measured, and the process was repeated.


The team was able to get a distribution of numbers that were close to random — but not quite, thanks to quantum effects. This distribution is difficult to calculate on a traditional computer. “With the first quantum computation that cannot reasonably be emulated on a classical computer, we have opened up a new realm of computing to be explored,” Google researchers John Martinis and Sergio Boixo wrote in a post on Google’s AI blog.


So why is this a big deal? Interest in quantum computers has been on the rise for their ability to solve problems current technology can’t handle. These computers can have a major impact on our technology, from making better batteries and medicine to decreasing emissions from farming chemicals. It could even help improve machine learning. While Google’s claim is impressive, Sycamore doesn’t have any practical use at this point. It was designed to show off how a quantum computer works.


Of course, not everyone believes Google. Researchers at IBM, in particular, have cast doubt on Google’s achievement. They posted their own paper at arXiv.org, stating that the calculation Google says would take 10,000 years could actually be performed in 2.5 days on a classical computer using an improved technique, though it would still require the most powerful supercomputer on the planet. IBM has been working on their own quantum computer though they favor a different performance metric than quantum supremacy known as quantum volume, which incorporates a variety of factors such as how error-prone the qubits are and how long they retain their quantum properties.


IBM researchers argue that their result means that Google hasn’t achieved quantum supremacy after all. IBM has not yet used a supercomputer to perform such a computation, however, so that leaves the quantum supremacy result in a “gray territory,” says quantum physicist Mária Kieferová of the University of Technology Sydney.


Even though many doubt Google’s claim, it still shows a big step forward for this advanced technology. In reality, we’re likely years and years away from having a quantum computer that can perform practical tasks. But with the increased interest and research surrounding the topic, there are bound to be more breakthroughs when it comes to this technology.


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