Google claims to have achieved ‘quantum supremacy’ computer breakthrough

23 Oct 2019

Image: © Siarhei/

Tech giant Google claimed its quantum computer can do a calculation in three minutes that would take a supercomputer as long as 10,000 years.

Google says it has achieved a breakthrough in quantum computing research. In a paper published in Nature, the technology firm claimed that its experimental quantum processor has completed a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that a traditional supercomputer could not complete in under 10,000 years.

The findings show that “quantum speed-up is achievable in a real-world system and is not precluded by any hidden physical laws”, the researchers wrote.

Quantum computing is a nascent and somewhat bewildering technology for vastly sped-up information processing. Famed scientist Richard Feynman proposed in the early 1980s that quantum computers would be an effective tool to solve problems in physics and chemistry.

The technology has also been tipped as having the potential to revolutionise complicated tasks such as the hunt for new drugs and optimising city and transportation planning.

The technique relies on quantum bits, or qubits, which can register data values of zero and one — the language of modern computing — simultaneously. Large tech firms, including Google, Microsoft, IBM and Intel, are avidly pursuing the technology.

“Quantum things can be in multiple places at the same time,” said Chris Monroe, a University of Maryland physicist who is also the founder of quantum start-up IonQ. “The rules are very simple, they’re just confounding.”

Google’s findings, however, are already facing pushback from other industry researchers. A version of Google’s paper leaked online last month and researchers caught a glimpse before it was taken down.

‘A pivotal step’

IBM quickly took issue with Google’s claim that it had achieved “quantum supremacy”, a term that refers to a point when a quantum computer can perform a calculation that a traditional computer cannot complete within its lifetime.

IBM researchers say that Google underestimated the conventional supercomputer, called Summit, and said it could actually do the calculation in two and a half days. Summit was developed by IBM and is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Google has not commented on IBM’s claims.

Whether or not Google has achieved “quantum supremacy” or not may matter to competitors, but the semantics could be less important for the field of quantum research. What it does seem to indicate is that the field is maturing.

“The quantum supremacy milestone allegedly achieved by Google is a pivotal step in the quest for practical quantum computers,” John Preskill, a professor who originally coined the “quantum supremacy” term, wrote in a column after the paper was leaked.

It means quantum computing research can enter a new stage, he wrote, though a significant effect on society “may still be decades away”. The calculation employed by Google has little practical use, Preskill added, other than to test how well the processor works.

– PA Media