Google claims major quantum computing breakthrough

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Google claims to have made a quantum computing breakthrough with a processor that performs in minutes work that would take classical computers 10,000 years.

Quantum computing is an advanced computing technology that is still at a relatively early stage of development.

The findings show that making computers faster is achievable in the real world and there are no "hidden physical law" to stop this, the researchers said. The crucial difference is that a quantum bit can exist in both states at the same time due to a quantum quirk called superposition. "The qubit in question can either equal 0 or 1 until someone actually measures it". The mythical-sounding term describes crossing the threshold where quantum computers can do things that conventional computers cannot.

In the realm of supercomputing, quantum processors are something of a holy grail. Google goes on to assert that the same task would take 10,000 years to complete running on the classical computing Goliath that is IBM's Summit supercomputer.

Back in September, the Financial Times reported that Google has managed to achieve "quantum supremacy", which means that its beast is able to perform calculations that would be impossible to pull off with any other computer.

But IBM didn't completely slate Google's efforts: "Building quantum systems is a feat of science and engineering and benchmarking them is a formidable challenge". Quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can be both 0 and 1.

More specifically, Google's 54-qubit Sycamore chips took just 200 seconds (three minutes and 20 seconds) to perform calculations that would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

It's worth noting that IBM has a paper that basically refutes Google's quantum supremacy claims, but neither that or the search giant's paper have been peer-reviewed.

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Researchers at IBM, Google's main quantum computing rival, said a supercomputer with additional disk storage can solve the random number problem in at most 2-1/2 days, with greater fidelity - or accuracy. As such, they say, Google's claims are totally exaggerated.

Google today announced a major milestone in quantum computing research.

But Preskill, who coined the term in 2012, wrote in Quanta that he aimed to convey the notion that "this is a privileged time in the history of our planet", when the most arcane laws of physics might be harnessed for human ambitions. All this goes to say, the potential of quantum computing is enormous.

Sceptics also argue that Google has only solved a very narrow task, and that quantum computing is still a long way away from practical use.

"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", Arute said.

Google's experiment, along with the construction of Sycamore, is detailed in a paper published in Nature today.

Cryptographers are, meanwhile, already preparing for the day when quantum computers might be used to crack the codes used, for example, to secure online access to bank accounts.

While this may seem unusual, it's down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the behaviour of the particles which make up an atom.

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