Paris: Scientists claimed Wednesday to have achieved a near-mythical state of computing in which a new generation of machine vastly outperforms the world’s fastest super-computer, known as ‘quantum supremacy’.
A team of experts working on Google’s ‘Sycamore’ machine said their quantum system had executed a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken a classic computer 10,000 years to complete. A rival team at IBM has already expressed scepticism about their claim.
But if verified and harnessed, the Google device could make even the world’s most powerful super-computers – capable of performing thousands of trillions of calculations per second – look like an early 2000s flip-phone.
Regular computers, even the fastest, function in binary fashion: they carry out tasks using tiny fragments of data known as bits that are only ever either 1 or 0. But fragments of data on a quantum computer, known as qubits, can be both 1 and 0 at the same time.
This property, known as superposition, means a quantum computer, made up of several qubits, can crunch an enormous number of potential outcomes simultaneously.
The computer harnesses some of the most mind-boggling aspects of quantum mechanics, including a phenomenon known as ‘entanglement’ – in which two members of a pair of bits can exist in a single state, even if far apart.
In a study published in ‘Nature’, the Google international team designed the Sycamore quantum processer, made up of 54 qubits interconnected in a lattice pattern.
They used the machine to perform a task related to random-number generation, identifying patterns amid seemingly random spools of figures. The ‘Sycamore’, just a few millimetres across, solved the task within 200 seconds.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai hailed the result as a sea change in computing. “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 make quantum computing a reality,” Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post.
Wednesday’s announcement was not without controversy. After a leaked draft of the Google lab’s paper appeared online last month, chip-maker IBM, which runs its own quantum computing programme, said the boasts of the ‘Sycamore’ computer’s feats were ‘exaggerated’.