Google claims breakthrough in blazingly fast computing

SAN FRANCISCO — Google announced Wednesday it has achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing, saying it has developed an experimental processor that took just minutes to complete a calculation that would take the world’s best supercomputer thousands of years.

The feat could open the door someday to machines so blazingly fast that they could revolutionize such tasks as finding new medicines, developing vastly smarter artificial intelligence systems and, most ominously, cracking the encryption that protects some of the world’s most closely guarded secrets.

Such practical uses are still probably decades away, scientists said. But the latest findings, published in the scientific journal Nature, show that “quantum speedup is achievable in a real-world system and is not precluded by any hidden physical laws,” the researchers wrote.

Big tech companies including Microsoft, IBM and Intel are avidly pursuing quantum computing, a new and somewhat bewildering technology for vastly sped-up information processing.

While conventional computing relies on bits, or pieces of data that bear either a one or zero, quantum computing employs quantum bits, or qubits, that contain values of one and zero simultaneously.

But quantum computing requires placing the fragile and volatile qubits in colder-than-outer-space-refrigerators to control them.

Google’s quantum processor looks like an upside-down garbage can, out of which comes a series of tubes used to conduct signals to a chip. The whole thing is stored in a cool chamber to protect the chip.

Google said that its quantum processor, called Sycamore, finished a calculation in 3 minutes, 20 seconds — and that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to do the same thing.

The calculation was a random sampling problem, similar to looking at the various combinations that could come from dice or a gambling machine. It has little practical value, other than to test how well the processor works.

“The more interesting milestone will be a useful application,” said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist who is also the founder of quantum startup IonQ.

Google’s findings, however, faced pushback from other industry researchers. A version of Google’s paper leaked online last month.

IBM took issue with Google’s claim that it had achieved “quantum supremacy,” or the point when a quantum computer can perform a calculation that a traditional computer can’t complete within its lifetime.

IBM researchers said that its IBM-developed supercomputer, called Summit, could actually do the calculation in 2.5 days.

Google disputed IBM’s claims.

Whether or not Google achieved “quantum supremacy,” the research suggests the field is maturing.

“The quantum supremacy milestone allegedly achieved by Google is a pivotal step in the quest for practical quantum computers,” John Preskill, the Caltech professor who coined the term “quantum supremacy,” wrote in a column after the paper was leaked.

It means quantum computing research can enter a new stage, he wrote, though a significant effect on society “may still be decades away.”

One feared outcome — though experts said it is a long way off — is a computer powerful enough to break today’s best cryptography.

Quantum computers might also one day lead to the development of better artificial intelligence systems to guide financial portfolios, crop yields or transportation routes.

The promise of such applications has attracted interest from the U.S., China and other governments. President Donald Trump last year signed a measure to spend more than $1.2 billion over five years for quantum research across the federal government.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP investigate possible drowning at Pigeon Lake: Man and woman found dead on shore

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

Maskwacis teen charged in 10-year-old boy’s death

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

Still no mandatory masks in Red Deer

While a growing number of Alberta communities have made masks mandatory, the… Continue reading

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Quebec festivals organizers look to innovate as restrictions loosened

Montreal has been having its quietest summer in recent memory, as COVID-19… Continue reading

COVID-19 outbreaks over in federal prisons, staff preparing for ‘new normal’

COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada’s federal prisons have been declared over, and staff… Continue reading

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

OTTAWA — The federal government will match all individual donations from Canadians… Continue reading

Protests in Beirut amid public fury over massive blast

BEIRUT — Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Lebanon’s… Continue reading

Most Read