Microsoft researchers claim that true quantum computing will be a reality in a decade
I saw an absolutely wild prediction this week by software firm Software AG. A spokesperson at the company reportedly said that in four years’ time, computers will have the processing power of a human brain.
This downright absurd prediction and many others surrounding the world of robotics and artificial intelligence have existed since the age of the machine, with futuristic ideas snapped straight from the pages of science fiction and splashed onto the headlines.
But rarely do they have any truth in them. We need just to glance at the predictions of thousands of scientists, illustrators, filmmakers and authors about what the 21st century might look like to realise that society’s pace of innovation and invention doesn’t quite keep up with how our fantastical brains might like it to: we’re not flying around in hovercars and we’re is certainly lacking in the robotic house servant department.
Research Station Q
However, one research paper really stuck out to me this week because of its, well, groundedness for lack of a better word.
“Recent improvements in control of quantum systems make it seem feasible to finally build a quantum computer within a decade,” the researchers say.
Quantum computers, to some extent, do exist today but are a topic of contention for scientists.
It was only in September when Google announced its intention upgrade its quantum computer capabilities from 512 qubits to more than 1000 qubits to help itself and NASA solve complex problems for the next seven years.
Google and NASA’s quantum computer, known as the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab (QuAIL), is being installed with a hardware upgrade from D-Wave, a Canadian company responsible for the quantum processor.
D-Wave said it will supply Google and NASA with regular upgrades to the system, keeping it state of the art for the foreseeable future.
But last year, a group of quantum computing scientists published a paper in Science that doubted the D-Waves quantum processor’s ability to actually carry out the complex computational tasks required of a quantum computer. In conclusion, the scientists said that the D-Waves processor has no advantage over a conventional computer when used to solve problems by today’s standards.
But what Microsoft’s researchers are arguing for is that by using a hybrid “quantum-classical” approach, which uses the power of a small quantum computer to power a framework of classical architectures, the “electronic structure of complex correlated materials can be efficiently tackled using a quantum computer”.
“Use of a quantum computer enables much larger and more accurate simulations than with any known classical algorithm,” say the researchers at Microsoft.
But they’re not alone. Microsoft’s closest competitors also have their own quantum ambitions. Google’s AI Labs, along with NASA and D-Wave, are obviously pushing ahead with their realisations of quantum computing . Intel in September invested $50 million into quantum computing research, and Amazon Web Services will no doubt be entering the space in a big way within the next few years.
So, whilst the age of the post-Watson true AI may be more than decades away, it seems incredibly likely that bona fide quantum computers will arrive within the next ten years and change the way computers compute forever.