Quantum computing has business potential, though the concept of quantum supremacy is easy to misinterpret. Jumping the shark could result in reduced interest and investment.
On September 20, the Financial Times reported that a Google research paper temporarily posted online said Google's quantum computer has reached "quantum supremacy," a threshold at which quantum computers are theorized to be capable of solving problems, which traditional computers would not (practically) be able to solve. If true, this represents a major milestone in the advancement of quantum computing.
According to the Financial Times, the report said that Google's quantum computer performed a computation in just over 3 minutes that would take 10,000 years to perform on IBM Summit, the world's top-ranking supercomputer. The paper indicated, "To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor."
SEE: Quantum computing: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The specific computation in question is at present unclear, though if Google has truly reached quantum supremacy, this would necessarily be a milestone worthy of celebration. Instead, Google quietly removed the research paper and declined to comment on the report to TechRepublic sister site CNET.
Industry reaction to the news has largely been sceptical, as expectations that Google's advancement is either overblown, or not applicable to practical business use of quantum computers. "The experiment and the 'supremacy' term will be misunderstood by nearly all," said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research, in a written statement. "Quantum computers are not 'supreme' against classical computers because of a laboratory experiment designed to essentially (and almost certainly exclusively) implement one very specific quantum sampling procedure with no practical applications. In fact, quantum computers will never reign 'supreme' over classical computers, but will rather work in concert with them, since each have their unique strengths."
"For quantum to positively impact society, the task ahead is to continue to build and make widely accessible truly programmable quantum computing systems that can implement, reproducibly and reliably, a broad array of quantum algorithms and programs," Gil said. "This is the only path forward for practical solutions to be realized in quantum computers. Only then will we get to the era of quantum advantage, when we will get to use "quantum + classical" systems in concert to accelerate discovery in science and to create commercial value in business. That goal, no matter current claims, has not been realized."
Gil said that over-hyping "quantum supremacy" could lead to a quantum winter, similar to the "AI winter" of reduced funding and interest in artificial intelligence research, a concern also raised by Gartner research vice president Matthew Brisse. "If [the research paper] is validated, and we can actually show quantum supremacy, that's a huge leap in the quantum computing industry," Brisse said. "I've taken over 300 calls this to date, nobody is categorically super concerned about 'How does it work?', it is all about 'How do I turn this into competitive advantage?'" Brisse said.
Intel's reaction to the news was moderately warmer. "Google's recent update on the achievement of quantum supremacy is a notable mile marker as we continue to advance the potential of quantum computing. Achieving a commercially viable quantum computer will require advancements across a number of pillars of the technology stack," said Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs. "We along with the industry are working to quickly advance all of those areas to realize the true potential of quantum computing. And while development is still at mile one of the marathon, we strongly believe in the potential of this technology."
For more on quantum computing, check out "Aliro aims to make quantum computers usable by traditional programmers" and "Why post-quantum encryption will be critical to protect current classical computers" at TechRepublic.
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