Just a day after IBM’s detailed rebuttal of Google’s claim to quantum supremacy, the search engine giant announced that they indeed have achieved quantum supremacy with its 54-qubit Sycamore quantum processor.
Google has also released a video giving a sneak peek into its quantum labs and the apparatus that has been set up over the last five years.
Sign up for your weekly dose of what's up in emerging technology.
In this seemingly never-ending tussle between IBM and Google, there is a danger that the innovation itself might succumb to the dopamine rushes of clickbait headlines.
The 20th century witnessed two landmark innovations that changed human civilization forever — quantum mechanics and information technology. Today, quantum computing, which is a product of the aforementioned inventions, makes us reminiscent of such extraordinary achievements of the previous century.
Understanding Supremacy Of Sycamore
The extended Church-Turing thesis states that classical computers can efficiently implement any “reasonable” model of computation. With their results showing the first quantum computation that cannot reasonably be emulated on a classical computer, Google’s Quantum team have opened up a new realm of computing to be explored.
The quantum supremacy experiment was run on a fully-programmable 54-qubit processor named “Sycamore.” It’s comprised of a two-dimensional grid where each qubit is connected to four other qubits. As a consequence, the chip has enough connectivity that the qubit states quickly interact throughout the entire processor, making the overall state impossible to emulate efficiently with a classical computer.
“Our machine performed the target computation in 200 seconds, and from measurements in our experiment, we determined that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to produce a similar output,” Google researchers insisted in their post.
As illustrated in the picture above, random simplified circuits from 12 up to 53-qubits were first conducted, keeping the circuit depth constant. Later, the performance of the quantum computer was checked using classical simulations and compared with a theoretical model.
IBM And Google Are Doing Just Fine
The whole Google-IBM-Quantum Supremacy fiasco started with a leaked Google paper claiming quantum computers accomplishing a task in 200 seconds, which otherwise would take a classical computer many thousands of years. IBM sharply disagreed by saying that the particular task would take only just over 2 days. Not that 200 seconds is any small feat but the large gap in numbers encouraged people to pick sides.
As IBM, with their post, was trying to sound more grounded and decelerate the quantum supremacy hype train, Google announced Sycamore processor. So where does this leave us?
Setting up a quantum computing lab requires the integration of skills and resources of the highest quality. Be it the 9-foot cryostat setup hanging from the roof or recruiting researchers to carry out experiments, both IBM and Google have done incredibly well to cross the 50 qubit threshold.
If Google speaks in terms of supremacy, IBM prefers performance metrics called quantum volume, which has a different approach to assessing the performance of a quantum processor. The argument against IBM is whether it has used a supercomputer to prove the so-called task in 2.5 days. If not then it leaves both the pioneers in an imaginary no man’s land and there is no point in pitting one against the other for achieving similar results and more attention should be paid to the journey of this brilliant innovation, the materials used to improve efficiency; its implications for drug discovery, on encryption services, machine learning and many more.
There is no such significant application that can explain to a layman, the potential of a quantum computer. However, one should remember the journey of the modern-day computer from transistors to supercomputers to smartphones. No one would have believed 50 years ago that there will be computers that would share information across the world under a second, can fit in a pocket and many times more powerful than computer aboard moon missions.
So when the dust settles, it will eventually be quantum versus classical computers and whether they can benefit each other.