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Google claims to have won the race to ‘quantum supremacy’

Research paper claims Google has achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ – a milestone in computing after their quantum processor performed a ‘calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would take a state-of-the-art supercomputer 10,000 years’

  • Research paper by Google was posted – and removed – from NASA website 
  • It claimed that Google successfully tested a quantum processor 
  • The processor, Sycamore, reportedly needed just over three minutes for a calculation that would take most advanced computer 10,000 years
  • IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and other firms are working to build quantum computers 

Google says it has made history by achieving ‘quantum supremacy.’

The internet giant claims to have demonstrated the superiority of a quantum computer over the conventional machines that power our world today.

An academic paper written by a Google scientist appeared on NASA’s website this week before it was taken down, according to the Financial Times.

Quantum computers are processors believed to be capable of solving calculations that are too complex for standard machines not rooted in quantum physics.

Google isn’t the only tech giant that is developing quantum computers.

Google, the internet giant based in Mountain View, California (above), claims to have developed a quantum processor that in just minutes can perform calculations which would take the most advanced classical computers tens of thousands of years

IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and other firms are all working to build their own versions of a quantum computer.

Before the Google research paper was removed from NASA’s website, a copy-paste version was posted on Pastebin.

According to the text of the publication, Google is claiming that its quantum processor known by code name ‘Sycamore’ can do a calculation ‘in three minutes and 20 seconds that would take today’s most advanced classical computer, known as Summit, approximately 10,000 years.’

Google has not responded to media requests for comment.

Quantum computers could operate millions of times faster than today’s advanced supercomputers.

The technology is based on quantum bits, or qubits, that can be ‘superposed’ on each other, exponentially increasing the amount of information that can be processed.

Developing viable quantum computers has proved to be hugely challenging because they rely on superconductivity that can only be achieved in temperatures close to absolute zero. The image above shows a dilution refrigerator used to cool quantum processors

Experts have said the promising technology, still in its infancy, could have a major impact on healthcare, communications, financial services, transportation, artificial intelligence, weather forecasting and other areas.

The technology carries major national security implications because quantum computers potentially could break traditional internet security programs or other codes.

Developing viable quantum computers has proved to be hugely challenging because they rely on superconductivity that can only be achieved in temperatures close to absolute zero.

Any instability in the qubits, for example from vibrations, can lead to ‘noise’ that causes calculation errors and undermines a quantum computer’s power to solve problems.

Earlier this month, IBM announced it was joining forces with a German research institute to explore the potential of quantum computing, backed by a government plan to invest $717million over two years in wider research in the field.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on quantum information science to ‘create a unified national quantum strategy’ that would authorize $1.3billion in funding through 2023. 

WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

The key to a quantum computer is its ability to operate on the basis of a circuit not only being ‘on’ or ‘off’, but occupying a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time.

While this may seem strange, it’s down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the behaviour of the particles which make up an atom.

At this micro scale, matter acts in ways that would be impossible at the macro scale of the universe we live in.

Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are either seen or interfered with.

A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit from a phosphorus atom precisely positioned in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to make the qubits ‘talk to one another

A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be either a ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ until it lands.

The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.

While a classical computer has ‘bits’ made up of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has ‘qubits’ which can take on the value of zero or one, or even both simultaneously.   

One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.

Google, IBM, and Intel are among companies competing to achieve this.

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