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23 Oct, 2019 13:50

Google proclaims ‘quantum supremacy’ with new supercomputing breakthrough

Google proclaims ‘quantum supremacy’ with new supercomputing breakthrough

Google has claimed the mantle of ‘quantum supremacy’ after its 53-bit quantum computer named Sycamore took just 200 seconds to perform a calculation that would have taken the world's top supercomputer 10,000 years to crack.

The tech giant made the initial claim back in September, which was fiercely disputed by competitors, but now the company has shown its hand by publishing its research in the journal Nature and on its own blog on Wednesday.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai praised the company’s AI division and likened Sycamore's “big breakthrough” to the Wright Brothers' first flight.

“The first plane flew only for 12 seconds, and so there is no practical application of that,” he said. “But it showed the possibility that a plane could fly.”

However, Sycamore's test has no practical applications as yet; it marks only the first step toward a potentially revolutionary technology. 

Quantum computers are expected to be particularly good at some of the most time-consuming chores, like crunching vast amounts of numbers and other data, for applications like investment banking to pharmaceutical development, artificial intelligence, materials science and random number generation.

However, the everyday browsing, online shopping and gaming will likely still fall to our consumer electronics like laptops, smartphones and tablets. Quantum computers require an environment just above absolute zero to operate, so they're not exactly easy to operate and maintain outside of the global tech giants.

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Classical computers as most people known them, operate using data in the form of bits, ones and zeros. Quantum computers on the other hand, use qubits, which can store a combination of different states of both one and zero in a mind-bending phenomenon known as superposition. 

These qubits can then be grouped together in what is known as quantum entanglement, a process which allows quantum computers to explore a vast number of possible solutions to a problem simultaneously.

As engineers increase the number of qubits in a quantum computer, its processing power grows exponentially. Google's engineers “expect that their computational power will continue to grow at a double-exponential rate.”

At present, Google’s Sycamore boasts 54 qubits, though only 53 were functional during the test, matching IBM's most powerful quantum computer. As expected, IBM challenged their rival's new findings, arguing in their own paper that “an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity.”

Companies such as Google, Intel, Microsoft, and IBM are all vying for quantum supremacy and it appears, for now at least, that Google has pulled ahead of the competition.

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