Quantum Supremacy: Quantum Computing Passes Another Critical Milestone

In recent years, physicists have taken the concept of quantum computer science fiction to reality by developing functional prototypes demonstrating all the potential power of this new technology. Researchers even say today they have reached an important milestone in achieving "quantum supremacy". Indeed, recently, a quantum computer called Sycamore solved a mathematical problem in 3.5 minutes, while the world's most powerful supercomputer Summit, it would have taken more than 10'000 years of work to achieve the same result.

For the first time, a quantum computer has solved a problem that a traditional computer can not solve, reports a team of researchers in the journal Nature . " A calculation that would take 10'000 years on a conventional supercomputer took 200 seconds on our quantum computer, " says Brooks Foxen, physicist at the Google AI Quantum and at the University of California.

" It is likely that the typical simulation time of 10,000 years will be reduced by the improvement of conventional hardware and algorithms, but since we are currently 1.5 million million times faster, we are proud of to affirm this success "adds Foxen.

Sycamore: the quantum computer with 53 qubits

Due to the superposition principle, quantum computers can store and manipulate much more information per unit of volume than traditional computers, which encode information in a binary way using 0 and 1. The research team directed by Frank Arute of the Google AI Quantum , used a quantum computer called Sycamore, which has 53 functional qubits.

(a) The 54 qubits (53 functional and 1 dysfunctional) of Sycamore, connected to each other via couplers. (b) The Sycamore processor. Credits: Frank Arute et al. 2019

Physicists placed these 53 qubits in a complex overlay state, then asked Sycamore to perform a task similar to generating random numbers. The results were then compared to simulations performed on the Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Sycamore quantum computer, contained in its cryostructure. Credits: Eric Lucero / Google

Summit is currently the most powerful supercomputer in the world, able to perform about 200 million billion operations per second, " said William Oliver, a physicist at MIT. " It includes about 40,000 processing units, each containing billions of transistors, and has 250 million gigabytes of storage. Approximately 99% of Summit's resources were used for conventional sampling . "

A demonstration of quantum supremacy on classical computers

Sycamore completed the operation in about 3.5 minutes, and the results suggested that even the most powerful traditional supercomputer would have to tackle the problem for about 10,000 years.

Graph showing the performance results of Sycamore against the Summit supercomputer. For the latter, the resolution of the problem studied would have required 10'000 years of calculation. Credits: Frank Arute et al. 2019
This demonstration of quantum supremacy over the current classical algorithms on the fastest supercomputers in the world is truly a remarkable achievement and milestone for quantum computing. This shows that quantum computers represent a computer model that is fundamentally different from that of conventional computers. It also combats critics of the controllability and viability of quantum computing in an extraordinarily large computing space (containing at least the 253 states used here) . "

Oliver also pointed out, however, that there is still a long way to go before quantum computers can be democratized. For example, researchers will need to develop new algorithms that can work with error-prone quantum processors, which will be available in the near future. And, to make the technology commercially viable in the long run, scientists will have to design robust protocols to correct quantum errors.


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