Google is now leading the charge in the race to develop a computer capable of numerical tasks far beyond what the first programmers ever would’ve thought possible.
Researchers at the company are now testing a 72-qubit quantum computer, scientists reported at a meeting of the American Physical Society on March 5.
Quantum computing is very different from classical computing—the type of mathematical gymnastics employed by your desktop while you’re typing or playing a game. Classical computers use bits to process information, where a bit represents either a zero or a one. By contrast, quantum computing uses qubits—which represent either a zero, a one, or a superposition (combination) of both.
Toward the end of 2017, IBM announced that it was testing a 50-qubit computer, which is the threshold for demonstrating that quantum computers can perform tasks beyond what traditional computers can do. Google’s computer is 22 qubits superior.
Here’s Emily Conover, writing for Science News:
Achieving quantum supremacy requires a computer of more than 50 qubits, but scientists are still struggling to control so many finicky quantum entities at once. Unlike standard bits that take on a value of 0 or 1, a qubit can be 0, 1 or a mashup of the two, thanks to a quantum quirk known as superposition.
Nicknamed Bristlecone because its qubits are arranged in a pattern resembling a pinecone’s scales, the computer is now being put through its paces. “We’re just starting testing,” says physicist John Martinis of Google and the University of California, Santa Barbara. “From what we know so far, we’re very optimistic.” The quantum supremacy demonstration could come within a few months if everything works well, Martinis says.
If we surpass that milestone, the relevance of quantum computers will rise—dramatically. Tools like IBM’s cloud-based, five-qubit processor could become important educational platforms. Moreover, the range of possibilities in the fields of physics and quantum cryptography will be that much wider.