Why it matters: In 2019, a leaked article claimed that Google physicists used 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’s quantum computing researchers initially performed 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 claimed to have reached a milestone known as quantum supremacy. Quantum supremacy is the point at which a quantum device can solve problems that cannot otherwise be solved by classical technology in a reasonable amount of 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 claimed that the same task could be performed in days with the right amount of resources available, invalidating Google’s claim of 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 by science.org, the effort used 512 GPUs, a number that is far from unmanageable considering the number of devices used in cryptocurrency mining over the past few 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 unmanageable given how many units cryptocurrency mining sometimes uses.
GPU computing power combined with advanced algorithms performed the same calculation in a matter of hours. The results, which were unthinkable according to leaked research findings in 2019, provide evidence to support claims that a large enough supercomputer could actually rival Sycamore’s previous performance.
Conventional computing relies on bits, the most basic units of information in computing. These bits can only exist as one of two values, either 0 or 1.
Quantum computing is based on quantum bits, or qubits, consisting 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 calculation. potential.
This achievement does not invalidate Google’s previous quantum achievements, nor does it indicate that standard 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 think today’s classical computing approach can keep up with current trends. quantum technologies.
Boixo’s statement is accurate given the rate of quantum growth 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.