What does it mean by Google quantum supremacy?

Google’s Quantum Computer (Photo courtesy: Nature, Credit: Erik Lucero)

On 23rd Oct, the scientists at Google announced that they have achieved quantum supremacy followed by publishing a scientific report in the reputed research journal Nature. The scientists claim that the quantum computer made at Google in collaboration with NASA and other laboratories is incomparably faster than the contemporary fastest supercomputers around the globe.

The leader of the research Prof. John Martinis says that this quantum computer carried out a specific calculation that is beyond practical limit of a classical supercomputer. According to Google’s claim, this quantum computer took 200 seconds to finish a complex calculation. According to the Google scientists’ estimate, the same calculation would take around 10,000 years to complete if tried to solve by a classical supercomputer. The Google quantum chip is named as Sycamore and it uses 54 qubits currently.

It is well known that the classical supercomputers work with bits (0 and 1) and quantum computers work with qubits (quantum bits). Qubits are far more complex than bits and scientists are struggling to understand the theoretical complexity of quantum bits. Quantum computers can outperform the contemporary supercomputers; is termed as quantum supremacy by a theoretical physicist of Caltech Prof. John Preskill in 2012. The scientists around the globe are in race to achieve the quantum supremacy since 1990s.

The recent announcement from Google about quantum supremacy came as a shock to several competitive research organizations. IBM, which is also a competitor of Google in making a quantum computer, also reported a pre-print of their research on 21st Oct which explains that the similar problem taken by Google quantum computer can be solved in just 2.5 days (in much smaller time than 10,000 years) by a classical supercomputer by using a different technique. IBM scientists say that the guess of Google scientists about 10,000 years’ calculation time for the problem is just an example of extreme exaggeration. This research paper is under review currently. If IBM scientists are found to be correct then it will be a big blow to Google’s claim that the such calculations are beyond the solving capacity of classical supercomputers. However, from the calculation time point of view, Google quantum computer is still far more quick than normal supercomputer (200 seconds vs.2.5 days). It is still a great leap in the field of computation as it is the evidence of quantum speed-up which is achieved in a real-world system.

The race for highest computing speeds is still on and the Google’s announcement is the first one in the line. There are still several other companies and countries which are leaving no stone unturned for the same. But why is it so important to achieve highest computation speeds for a company and for a nation?

Google’s Sycamore chip for quantum computing with 54 Qubits (Photo courtesy: Nature, Credit: Erik Lucero)

Ultrafast computers are crucial in several applications like digitisation process of industry, health, scientific research, weather forecasting, space research, military & strategic applications, war and nuclear simulations. For example, world beating aircraft ‘AIRBUS 380’ could never be realised without high performance computing. In automobile industry, high performance computing accelerates the simulation process for optimizing the vehicle design. Industries are collecting a huge amount of data and it needs to be processed according to the demand. We are living in the times of big-data. The governments are also collecting a huge amount of data about their citizens and they want to quickly characterize the data frequently for running several schemes and governance. For space applications, the several processes are simulated before they actually happen and it needs high performance computing. The ultrafast computers can help in detecting the genetic changes responsible for onset and mutation of tumours in a simple, quick and precise way. For example, for analysing cause of a baby’s illness in comparison to its two genetic variants, it needs to analyse 120 billion nucleotide sequences. Ultrafast computers are also needed for accurate weather forecasting and scientific research. The companies like Google and IBM see a great market in the field of high performance computing. But companies are not the only organizations who are in race of achieving quantum supremacy. There are powerful countries and their governments who are also eager to make the ultrafast quantum computers. 

Weapon designing needs ultrafast computation speeds to determine where the results are most sensitive to model uncertainties of fundamental data for minimising the input and maximizing the damage in correct and precise way. American agency- National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has world’s second fastest supercomputer- Sequoia. This ultrafast computation facility is used in nuclear weapon’s modelling and simulation. The world-class scientists and engineers perform modelling, simulation and validation of explosions to re-analysed data achieved from previously underground nuclear tests. America’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has already asked a supercomputer manufacturer company Cray to build a first exascale computer at cost of $600 million. US has more than 4,600 nuclear weapons and US government is keen to make sure the security and performance of this huge stock of nuclear weapons. In the times of Artificial Intelligence, the military agencies are seeing use of drones and automated robots for bombing and warfare which needs high computing speeds. In near future, power of computers will be an important factor to win a war.

China, Japan and other countries are already making die hard efforts to achieve better supercomputing for more than a decade.

Announcement of quantum supremacy by a company like Google will also create a new roadmap for military and nuclear strategic areas in near future.

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