Google creates quantum chip millions of times faster than the fastest supercomputer

Google Sycamore processor
(Image credit: Google)

Google has announced that it has achieved "quantum supremacy" with its advanced Sycamore chip. In a paper published in Nature, Google says that it has made a major breakthrough in the field of quantum computing – solving calculations that would take an impractical length of time with current technology.

Its quantum processor has been able to complete in minutes calculations that would take thousands of years with a supercomputer.

More specifically, Google's 54-qubit Sycamore chips took just 200 seconds (three minutes and 20 seconds) to perform calculations that would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

In essence, by harnessing the power of sub-atomic particles that can be in multiple states at the same time, Google has been able to do something that would simply not otherwise be possible.

The need for speed

The team behind the work, headed by Frank Arute from Google AI, says: "This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm."

As CEO Sundar Pichai explains, one of the key achievements of Google's work here has been eliminating errors. "We are able to achieve these enormous speeds only because of the quality of control we have over the qubits," he said.

"Quantum computers are prone to errors, yet our experiment showed the ability to perform a computation with few enough errors at a large enough scale to outperform a classical computer."

Google has been working on quantum computing – a field that has existed for around 30 years – for more than a decade. The recent advancements that have been made could have huge implication for future technology, but you probably shouldn't expect to find a quantum chip in your net laptop or desktop computer.

A major breakthrough?

Despite the excitement Google is trying to drum up around the achievement, there's cause to temper expectations. At the moment, quantum computing is prohibitively expensive, but that's not all; at least for the foreseeable future, quantum computers will only be used for intensive, highly-specific tasks and artificial intelligence.

In the tests that were used to achieve quantum supremacy, for instance, Sycamore was used to detect patterns in large groups of seemingly random numbers.

Additionally, IBM disagrees with Google's claims, suggesting that they are overblown. The company says that: "an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity". IBM even goes as far as to suggest that this is a "conservative, worst-case estimate", and could even be improved upon.

IBM also says that the claims are misleading because, among other things, "quantum computers will never reign 'supreme' over classical computers, but will rather work in concert with them".

Sofia Elizabella Wyciślik-Wilson
Freelance writer

Sofia is a tech journalist who's been writing about software, hardware and the web for nearly 25 years – but still looks as youthful as ever! After years writing for magazines, her life moved online and remains fueled by technology, music and nature.

Having written for websites and magazines since 2000, producing a wide range of reviews, guides, tutorials, brochures, newsletters and more, she continues to write for diverse audiences, from computing newbies to advanced users and business clients. Always willing to try something new, she loves sharing new discoveries with others.

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