A Quantum Computer is a bit of a rule breaker. Where every other computer—from your laptop to your tablet to your phone—follows certain basic rules, the quantum computer is free from those restrictions, making it capable of making calculations much faster than even the fastest supercomputers available. Google recently posted a video, Demonstrating Quantum Supremacy, to celebrate the milestone.
The rules that normal computers run by were first established by Charles Babbage in the 1830s, and then codified by Alan Turing in the 1930s. Over the years, those basic rules haven’t changed. Quantum computing changes the fundamental scaling behavior of algorithms. That means that certain tasks formally considered to be exponentially difficult are now possible.
Google’s quantum computer uses a chip called Sycamore, which has 53 loops of wire that can flow two different energies—in binary terms, it can flow either a 0 or a 1 if we were talking about a regular chip. Sycamore, however, can be both a 0 and a 1 at the same time. As an example of what the possibilities are with the Sycamore bit, Google claims that the calculation done on the quantum computer in just 3 minutes and 20 seconds would take 10,000 years for 100,000 conventional computers to complete. That kind of computing power would make incredible changes to every field imaginable, from pharmaceuticals to financial modeling to encryption.
IBM is refuting Google’s claim to have achieved quantum supremacy. Remember, the idea of quantum supremacy is that a quantum computer can do something that a normal computer could not reasonably do. IBM claims that their Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a computer that takes up the area the size of two basketball courts, could accomplish the same operation. Granted, Summit would take 2.5 days to do it, but we’re not talking about speed here. Even if IBM is right, Google’s accomplishment is groundbreaking because Sycamore is solving a problem in a fundamentally different way.
What quantum supremacy means for the rest of the world is that things could get a lot easier. We could see more breakthroughs in multiple fields happening. We could also be welcoming in our new robot overlords—just saying.