For the first time, a device working on quantum mechanics ‘ mind-boggling mathematics has apparently solved a problem that would fall the world’s top supercomputers-a development known as “quantum supremacy.”
The report by Google’s AI Quantum team and the University of California at Santa Barbara physicist John Martinis, if validated, constitutes a major leap for quantum computing, a technology that relies on the bizarre behavior of small particles to encode huge amounts of information. According to a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, in less than 3 1/2 minutes, Google’s Sycamore processor carried out a calculation that would take 10,000 years to complete the most powerful classical machine on the planet.
The feat was compared to the 12-second first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk-an early, a hopeful glimpse of a coming revolution. Quantum computers can one day transform the way we communicate ideas, hide information and understand the universe by having exponentially greater computing power than the devices we use today.
The outcome is also a feather in the cap for both Google and the United States because quantum computing is expected to bring enormous economic and national security benefits to anyone who can master it first. Since a leaked version of the report was posted on a NASA website last month, the engineering community has been concerned about the breakthrough.
“For those of us who are working on the theory,” said Ashley Montanaro, a quantity algorithm expert at Bristol University, “it’s a point where things that were hypothetical only in the past now seem to become true.”
Caltech theoretical physicist John Preskill, writing in Quanta magazine, called the result “a remarkable achievement in experimental physics and a tribute to the rapid pace of progress in quantum computing hardware.”
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement on Wednesday that this was a “hello world” landmark, marking “a moment of opportunity.” “In many respects, quantum gives a complete circle of computation,” Pichai said, “bringing us another way of speaking the language of the universe and understanding the world and humanity, not only in the 1s and 0s but in all its states: magnificent, complex and infinite.”