Why it matters: In 2019, a leaked article claimed Google physicists were using their quantum computer, Sycamore, to perform a calculation that would overwhelm the world’s most powerful supercomputer. Chinese scientists recently challenged this claim by successfully performing the same calculation in a few hours using the computing power of current GPUs. Their results prove that a supercomputer using today’s technology could likely beat Sycamore’s previous record.
Google quantum computing researchers initially completed the complex calculation in 200 seconds (just over three minutes), a feat they say would have taken the fastest supercomputer more than 10,000 years. Based on this result, the team said they had reached a milestone known as quantum supremacy. Quantum supremacy is the point at which a quantum device can solve problems that otherwise cannot be solved by classical technology in a reasonable time.
Not everyone believed in Google’s self-proclaimed supremacy in 2019. Another major player in the quantum computing space, IBM, disputed Google’s claims from the start. The researchers confirmed that the same task could be completed in days with the right amount of available resources, invalidating Google’s claim to quantum supremacy.
Chinese scientists managed to prove IBM’s point by tackling the original problem using advanced algorithms and the computing power of today’s GPUs to complete the calculation. According to a report from science.org, the effort used 512 GPUs, a number that is far from unfathomable considering the number of units used in cryptocurrency mining operations over the past few years. years.
Chinese scientists managed to prove IBM’s point by tackling the original problem using advanced algorithms and the computing power of today’s GPUs to complete the calculation. A report in Science notes that the effort used 512 GPUs — a number that is far from unfathomable considering how many units cryptocurrency mining operations sometimes use.
GPU computing power combined with advanced algorithms performed the same calculation in a matter of hours. The findings, which were unthinkable according to research findings presented in 2019, provide evidence supporting claims that a large enough supercomputer could, in fact, rival Sycamore’s earlier achievement.
Conventional computing relies on bits, the most basic units of information in computing. These bits can exist as only one of two values, either 0 or 1.
Quantum computing is based on quantum bits, or qubits, made up of a superposition of 0 and 1. Like a bit, a qubit can be equal to 0 or 1. However, it has the additional property of being equal to 0 and 1 simultaneously, resulting in a huge increase in computation. potential.
This achievement does not invalidate Google’s previous quantum achievements, nor does it indicate that off-the-shelf processing hardware can “catch up” to quantum’s capabilities. Google Quantum AI lead scientist Sergio Boixo said the original 2019 paper acknowledges the likely future improvement of classical algorithms, but doesn’t believe today’s classical computing approach can keep pace with current trends. quantum technologies.
Boixo’s statement is accurate given the quantum growth rate since 2019. Google’s original Sycamore was a 53-qubit processor. In 2021, IBM unveiled its 127-qubit Eagle, and its quantum roadmap seeks to break the 1,000-qubit barrier in 2023.