The Sycamore processor Google claims has helped it achieve
The Sycamore processor Google claims has helped it achieve "quantum supremacy". (Google)

Google claims gigantic breakthrough

GOOGLE has claimed it's achieved "quantum supremacy" with the development of a supercomputer it says accomplished in minutes what would have taken the most powerful computers in the world 10,000 years.

Rumours had been circulating the massive tech firm had achieved the feat after a brief note appeared on a NASA website last month before it was quickly removed, but on Wednesday Google published its findings in the journal Nature.

Coincidentally or not, this marked the 11-year anniversary of a study appearing in the same journal where a team of US and UK scientists achieved the first consistent storage of quantum data.

In the newly published study, it's claimed the research team's quantum processor, dubbed Sycamore, took just 200 seconds to complete a complex number sampling task that gets harder and more complex as it goes on.

Quantum computing differs from "classical" computing primarily in the way it processes information.

Classical computers use "bits" or binary digits - either a one or a zero to represent true or false.

Quantum computers (theoretically) use "qubits", which in simple terms can be one or zero at the same time.

This allows quantum computers to communicate more information more quickly than classical computers.

The Sycamore processor Google claims has helped it achieve ‘quantum supremacy’. Photo: Google
The Sycamore processor Google claims has helped it achieve ‘quantum supremacy’. Photo: Google

Research lead Dr John Martinis, an experimental physicist who joined Google five years ago to head up its effort to build the first useful quantum computer, said the Sycamore processor's achievement, while not all that useful in itself, proved the quantum hardware and software Google was developing worked correctly.

But not everyone agrees with the findings.

Rival computing company IBM has disputed several of the claims in Google's study.

Chief among them is the time it would take a classical computer to achieve the same task Google's quantum processor was programmed to.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai alongside the company's supercomputer. Picture: Google
Google CEO Sundar Pichai alongside the company's supercomputer. Picture: Google

While Google's study claimed the task would take the most powerful supercomputers we currently have approximately 10,000 years, IBM said earlier this week the task would take the Summit supercomputer at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory two-and-a-half days at the most.

"This is in fact a conservative, worst-case estimate, and we expect that with additional refinements the classical cost of the simulation can be further reduced," a blog post authored by three of IBM's quantum computing researchers reads.

The IBM supercomputer ‘Summit’ located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US state of Tennessee.
The IBM supercomputer ‘Summit’ located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US state of Tennessee.

"Because the original meaning of the term 'quantum supremacy', as proposed by John Preskill in 2012, was to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can't, this threshold has not been met," IBM said.

Prof Preskill recently expressed his disappointment in how the term he coined had evolved over the years and said it further exacerbated the "already overhyped reporting on the status of quantum technology" and also raised political concerns through "its association with white supremacy".

The IBM team said quantum computers wouldn't end up replacing classical computers but might work in concert with them in the future.

That future is still believed to be a long way off, but Dr Martinis said the improvements the Google team made to its hardware and the new electronics and methods it had for connecting qubits was a big step.

"This is really the basis of how we're going to scale up in the future. We think this basic architecture is the way forward," he said.

W hat do you think of Google's new development? Let us know in the comments below.


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