Google unveils computer with ‘quantum supremacy’, rivals say wait a qubit

Tech giant flags advancements in AI, chemistry

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai with one of the company’s quantum computers. Photograph: AFP (from Google handout)

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai with one of the company’s quantum computers. Photograph: AFP (from Google handout)

 

Google said on Wednesday it achieved a breakthrough in computing research by using a quantum computer to solve in minutes a complex problem that would take today’s most powerful supercomputer thousands of years to crack.

Google researchers expect that quantum computers within a few years will fuel advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, materials science and chemistry. The company is racing rivals including IBM Corp and Microsoft Corp to be the first to commercialize the technology and sell it through cloud computing units.

“We’re hoping that when people start using this and looking at performance stability and cloud interface, they’ll get really excited about what we have to offer at Google,” John Martinis, the company’s chief scientist for quantum hardware told reporters.

Official confirmation of the breakthrough came in a paper published in science journal Nature, after weeks of controversy following the leak of a draft, over whether Google’s claim of “quantum supremacy” was valid.

For decades, computer scientists have sought to harness quantum physics, laws governing the behaviour of sub-atomic particles that can simultaneously exist in different states - in contrast to the everyday world that people perceive.

So, whereas traditional computing relies on bits, or ones and zeros, quantum computing uses quantum bits, or qubits, that can be both one and zero at the same time.

Superposition

This property, called superposition, multiplies exponentially as qubits become entangled with each other. The more qubits that can be strung together, the vastly more powerful a quantum computer becomes.

But there’s a catch: Quantum researchers need to cool the qubits to close to absolute zero to limit vibration - or “noise” - that causes errors to creep into their calculations. It’s in this extremely challenging task that Google, aided by liquid helium for cooling, has made significant progress.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai compared the achievement to building the first rocket to leave the Earth’s atmosphere and touch the edge of space, an advance that brought interplanetary travel into the realm of the possible.

“For those of us working in science and technology, it’s the ‘hello world’ moment we’ve been waiting for - the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to date to make quantum computing a reality,” Mr Pichai wrote in a blog. – Reuters