The breakthrough, recently announced in the online edition of the scientific journal Nature, is the first empirical demonstration of the concept of “quantum supremacy”. This concept, predicted by theoretical physics, postulates that quantum computers will be able to perform tasks which are beyond the reach of conventional computers.
Quantum supremacy has been demonstrated in a test which involved identifying patterns in a series of apparently random numbers. Google’s team has developed the Sycamore quantum processor with 54 qubits, or quantum bits. One of the qubits malfunctioned during the test, meaning the experiment was performed with 53 qubits. The 53 qubits can be in 10 quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) different quantum combinations. Unlike bits used in classical computing, which can have only two values (0 or 1), qubits can have both values simultaneously, thanks to a quantum property of the particles known as superposition.
The performance of the Sycamore quantum processor was compared to the Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. With a speed of 200 billion operations per second, Summit is currently the most powerful supercomputer in the world. However, it was unable to match Sycamore’s speed.
According to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas [Spanish National Research Council] (CSIC), Google’s announcement is clearly a milestone, a significant technical breakthrough. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that this was a scientific exercise and not a practical demonstration. The real turning point will come when the quantum computer is shown to have a practical application.
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