Google Claims “Quantum Supremacy”, But IBM Disagrees

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Google and IBM publicly clash after the former claimed to have achieved a quantum computing breakthrough

Researchers at Google have touted their quantum computer has solved a problem that would take fastest conventional supercomputer thousands of years to crack.

Google published the results in Nature journal, after its Sycamore quantum processor was able to perform a specific task in 200 seconds that would take the world’s best supercomputers 10,000 years to complete.

Google claimed the milestone in computing comparable in importance to the Wright brothers’ first flights. But IBM has poured cold water on Google’s claims.

Credit: ORNL

Quantum supremacy

Google said that it had achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ as its quantum processor consisting of 54 superconducting quantum bits, or qubits, was able to perform a random sampling calculation – essentially verifying that a set of number is randomly distributed – exponentially faster than any standard computer.

Google’s Sycamore device apparently did it in just 3 minutes and 20 seconds, though one of the qubits had to be turned off as it wasn’t working properly.

The Google researchers claimed that IBM’s Summit, the world’s most powerful supercomputer, would have taken 10,000 years to perform the same task.

But IBM, which is also working on quantum computers of its own, questioned some of Google’s figures in a blog post by IBM researchers Edwin Pednault, John Gunnels, and Jay Gambetta.

IBM disagrees

“Recent advances in quantum computing have resulted in two 53-qubit processors: one from our group in IBM and a device described by Google in a paper published in the journal Nature,” wrote the IBM researchers.

“In the paper, it is argued that their device reached ‘quantum supremacy’ and that ‘a state-of-the-art supercomputer’ would require approximately 10,000 years to perform the equivalent task,” they noted.

“We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity,” said the IBM researchers. “This is in fact a conservative, worst-case estimate, and we expect that with additional refinements the classical cost of the simulation can be further reduced.”

“Because the original meaning of the term “quantum supremacy,” as proposed by John Preskill in 2012, was to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can’t, this threshold has not been met,” they wrote.

In June this year it was reported that a team of well-known British quantum computing experts had moved to Silicon Valley to found a start-up in the field, due to the lack of available funding in the UK or Europe.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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