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breakthrough

Google says its quantum computer performed a calculation that would take a supercomputer 10,000 years

Google just announced a major computing breakthrough.

The company on Wednesday said it has achieved "quantum supremacy," meaning getting a quantum computer to perform a task that a classical computer cannot, The New York Times reports.

Specifically, Google says its researchers' quantum computer performed a calculation in just over three minutes that would take the fastest supercomputer in the world around 10,000 years. The milestone, detailed in a Nature article, is one that the Times points out scientists have been working toward since the 1980s and that University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Scott Aaronson compared to the Wright brothers' first flight.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post explained that "we're now one step closer to applying quantum computing to — for example — design more efficient batteries, create fertilizer using less energy, and figure out what molecules might make effective medicines." He also described this as "the 'hello world' moment we've been waiting for — the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to make quantum computing a reality."

This announcement was seemingly made prematurely last month when a paper featuring the claim briefly appeared online, but it's now official from Google. In anticipation of the unveiling Wednesday, though, IBM disputed Google's claim in a blog post, arguing that actually, "the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity."

Even if Google's claim is correct, Engadget notes the "feat has almost no practical use" right now and "was designed simply to show that a quantum computer could perform as expected." Pichai acknowledged that in his blog post by saying that "we have a long way to go between today's lab experiments and tomorrow's practical applications." But as he explained in an interview with Technology Review, "if in any field you have a breakthrough, you start somewhere."