A month ago, researchers from Google started to claim that their quantum computer reached an incredible milestone: quantum supremacy, the major goal of those supercomputers that could make our current tech obsolete.
Now, Google officially published its claim in the journal Nature, igniting a worldwide discussion that can make your head spin.
Google stated that, in just 200 seconds, its 54-qubit Sycamore processor was capable to perform a calculation that would have taken the world’s biggest supercomputer a whopping 10,000 years.
The calculation involved checking the randomness of a sequence of numbers, a task impossible for current computers.
“To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can be performed only on a quantum processor,” said the authors of the Google announcement, explaining that “Quantum processors have thus reached the regime of quantum supremacy.”
Of course, challengers soon appeared.
IBM has long been the champion of supercomputers and demoed some impressive achievements with the likes of Watson. They also unveiled the first commercial quantum computer back at CES this year, so they couldn’t take Google’s claim of quantum supremacy at face value.
Even more, IBM penned a blog post arguing that the Oak Ridge supercomputer could solve the problem Google threw at their own in just 2.5 days, even less.
Their claim hinges that “When their comparison to classical was made, they relied on an advanced simulation that leverages parallelism, fast and error-free computation, and large aggregate RAM, but failed to fully account for plentiful disk storage.”
“IBM is claiming that, even when running the world’s largest computer for 2 and a half days, and running petabytes of memory, they can simulate what the quantum chip does in 200 seconds. When you put it into context, it is still a pretty impressive achievement,” explained Ciarán Gilligan-Lee at University College London.
“And we would further add that the “supremacy” term is being misunderstood by nearly all (outside of the rarified world of quantum computing experts that can put it in the appropriate context).
A headline that includes some variation of “Quantum Supremacy Achieved” is almost irresistible to print, but it will inevitably mislead the general public.
First because, as we argue above, by its strictest definition the goal has not been met.
But more fundamentally, because quantum computers will never reign “supreme” over classical computers, but will rather work in concert with them, since each have their unique strengths,” say IBM researchers.
It’s quite a sensible position to take but something tells us Google will soon have a response to this direct critique.