Last week Google released a much-anticipated paper on achieving quantum supremacy. It’s the cover story for Nature and the tech world is abuzz about what this means for computers going forward.
The result is an astonishing level of technical advancement and in the words of one Nature editor, we have a ‘Kitty Hawk’ moment. It is now November, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills, and the first public flight of an airplane won’t be until 1908; there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Since the leaked release of Google’s quantum supremacy paper a month ago, leading quantum computer researcher Scott Aaronson has covered the open questions. Now he’s back with a full assessment of what the Google paper means.
Of note is a paper from IBM saying there is no supremacy here, because a very large classical computer — at the limit of what can be built, and currently the number one most powerful supercomputer —can indeed process the same amount of data as Google’s quantum chip in just a few days.
However, this is a facile comparison between quantum and classical computers. Yes, the most powerful classical computer could simulate a 53-qubit quantum computer, but it would take half a dozen of the most powerful classical computers to simulate a chip with 60 qubits. 70 qubits would require an entire city full of supercomputers.
Google’s quantum supremacy announcement isn’t about beating a classical computer. It’s simply the first step towards creating a new paradigm of computing. Just check out the official video from the Google team:
The entire purpose of the Sycamore chip is not to beat classical computers, but to create a device that will allow researchers to do just that. It’s a tool for finding applications for quantum computing, and this chip is only the beginning for a new age of computing.
However, with this success and the hype surrounding a ‘quantum supremacy’, there is a danger. Quantum computing will suffer if this supremacy is overhyped, writes the editors of Nature.
The idea of a quantum computer is entangled with the idea of breaking all existing cryptography, simulating materials and chemical reaction, and greatly improving the speed of drug discovery. This has resulted in vast investments in quantum technology, unrealistic expectations and unheralded optimism. With this comes the risk of an Quantum Winter if quantum computing can not deliver on those promises quickly enough.
Still, Google’s Sycamore chip is a fantastic piece of technology. But it will be several years before the results of these experiments see the light of day.