State researchers in China recently developed a quantum computing system that is said to be 10 billion times faster than Google’s “Sycamore” machine. If so, it would be a significant milestone for the field.
Front: As far as we can tell, it’s true. After a quick look at the research paper and a look at the peer response, it is evident that the Chinese team managed to do something extraordinary here.
Here is the jargon from the paper itself:
Quantum computers promise to perform certain tasks that are believed to be impossible for classical computers to solve. Boson sampling is one such task and is considered a strong candidate to demonstrate the benefit of quantum computation. We perform a Gaussian boson scan by sending 50 indistinguishable single-mode squeezes into a 100-mode, low-loss interferometer with full connectivity and random matrix – all of the optical setup is phase-locked – and the output with 100 highly efficient singles -Sample mode samples. Photon detectors.
Basically, the researchers say they built a quantum computer machine that uses light to perform a very specific task (boson scanning) to demonstrate and measure its effectiveness.
Background: The reason this is important is because, in theory, quantum computers can solve really difficult problems. We’re talking about the kind of problems that physicists and computer scientists value that a classic machine would take thousands of years to solve.
In 2018, Google claimed it had developed the first machine that could demonstrate a “quantum advantage.” This just means that supposedly a quantum computer was able to do something that a classical computer either couldn’t do or couldn’t do in a reasonable time.
Google claimed that its system, a 53-qubit machine that shakes a quantum chip called “Sycamore”, could solve a specific problem that a supercomputer couldn’t solve. Unfortunately for Google, IBM was quick to deny this claim. According to Big Blue, it can solve the same problem on one of its classic supercomputers in just a few days – using algorithms that already existed at the time of Google’s announcement.
Take quickly: What China has done is completely different from what Google has done. In essence, China has built a machine that can only perform the experiment that demonstrates quantum superiority. In other words, it doesn’t actually solve any problems, which makes being a computer a bit voluntary.
The Google machine, on the other hand, is “programmable”. This means that in theory it could be tweaked to solve one or more problems.
That doesn’t mean what China did isn’t a breakthrough. Pushing the boundaries of what quantum science can achieve is the goal of everyone working in this field. The various laboratories around the world working on building quantum computing machines use different approaches because while the future holds promise for the field, we are still taking the first theoretical steps towards useful quantum computers.
China’s methods may have made the most recent breakthrough, but as Lu Chaoyang, the professor who led the experiment, told the Financial Times:
Building a quantum computer is a race between humans and nature, not between countries.
You can find more information on quantum computing in our primer here.
Published on December 4, 2020 – 18:47 UTC