World first as Google achieves Quantum Supremacy, but IBM tries to spoil the party

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Until today the world’s most powerful computer was Summit, a US supercomputer, now all that’s changed and a new era of computing has begun.

 

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Almost exactly two years after Google said it was just months away from achieving Quantum Supremacy, and exactly a month after researchers accidentally discovered a document on a remote server that stated Google had finally managed to achieve it, the point at which quantum computers become the most powerful computers on Earth, albeit at certain tasks, the company has now officially announced they’ve passed this historic computing milestone. They published their results in the scientific journal Nature. Now that’s it’s official, however, the broader scientific community can fully scrutinize what Google says it’s achieved.

 

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In the announcement Google says that its 54-qubit Sycamore processor was able to “perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer [Summit in the US that performs 200 Quadrillion calculations a second] 10,000 years.” That would mean the calculation, which involved generated random numbers, is essentially impossible on a traditional, non-quantum computer. This kind of power is also one of the reasons why these futuristic computing platforms will one day soon be able to crack over 70 percent of all encryption on the planet and staggeringly crack 2048 bit encryption in under 8 hours – something that, understandably has a lot of governments and companies on edge.

 

The most powerful computer in the world

 

Unsurprisingly though, IBM, the company that operates the supercomputer that Google claims to have beaten, and a key quantum computer competitor, is disputing their claims. In a blog post published pre-emptively on Monday, the company said that the same task could be performed on a classical system in just 2.5 days, rather than the 10,000 years that Google is claiming. IBM says that Google “failed to fully account for plentiful disk storage” when estimating how long its traditional supercomputer would take to perform the calculation.

 

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Despite IBM’s attempts to downplay Google’s achievement, many in the research community welcomed the news, with scientists quoted by The New York Times likening Google’s breakthrough to the Wright brothers’ first plane flight in 1903. We may still be years away from having quantum computers that are useful for practical tasks, but Google’s findings could finally have provided proof that such a future is possible in the first place.

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