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Quantum computing: A new era seems to have begun

Quantum computing: A new era seems to have begun
Highlights

This week’s edition of science journal Nature features the modestly titled paper, “Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor.”

This week's edition of science journal Nature features the modestly titled paper, "Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor." But it represents a major milestone in the quantum computing industry and for Google in particular.

The paper demonstrates a quantum computer solving a problem, for the first time, significantly faster than a classical computer could. Google achieved this milestone with its new quantum chip that it's dubbed "Sycamore."

This is a 54-qubit chip built on a superconducting architecture. The quantum computer takes advantage of a principle of quantum mechanics called "entanglement." This means that while a classical computer bit is binary — it exists as "zero" or "one" — a qubit is able to take advantage of a phenomenon known as entanglement to produce a quantum superposition.

Put simply, a qubit doesn't exist as "one" or "zero" but rather a complex linear combination of both, which enables a quantum computer (theoretically) to solve certain classes of problems faster than traditional computers.

In a blog post published on October 23, Google CEO Sundar Pichai likened this moment to "the first rocket that successfully left Earth's gravity to touch the edge of space," stating, "that's what this milestone represents for the world of quantum computing: a moment of possibility."

Physicists have been talking about the power of quantum computing for over 30 years, but the question has always been: will it ever do something useful? The problem is that entanglement is a very delicate process — small environmental changes can impact them, making errors and noise a problem in quantum computing.

This is why Google, IBM and others have made quantum chips that operate using superconductors at near absolute zero in an attempt to preserve these fragile entanglements.

Google now has proved it can execute an entanglement and declared quantum supremacy.

In this particular experiment, Google's researchers were able to connect 53 of Sycamore's qubits and use them to detect patterns in large, seemingly random numbers. Its computer was able to solve this problem in about three minutes and 20 seconds, and the research team calculated it would take 10,000 years for a classical computer to solve the same problem.

The bottom line, if Google's claims are true, is simply this: a new era of computing has begun. Quantum computers, mind you, are not an improvement over classical computers.

The difference between the two is that between a kerosene-fuelled lamp and an incandescent electric bulb. There could be differences among companies and countries vying for the supremacy.

Google's news comes amid intense competition among the nations and loads of money is being spent on quantum computation.

Quantum computing steps in with several advantages over classical computing in three areas that are very important to business: Logistics optimisation, chemical simulation and certain machine learning applications.

All governments are focusing on quantum computations because the first country to achieve it could theoretically go completely 'dark' to its rivals, hiding all its information from traditional digital surveillance methods.

On the flip side, of course, major gains in quantum computing could undo existing means of keeping data secret. Most of the competitors in the race now are from China. Where does India stand?

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