Quantum Computer Completed A 2.5-Billion-Year Task In 200 Seconds

Traditional computers process data called binary bits as either a zero or a one. The bits in quantum computer (called qubits) can be both one and zero simultaneously, raising the potential processing power exponentially. 

Quantum Computer Completed A 2.5-Billion-Year Task In 200 Seconds

By Andrea D. Steffen

This ability enables quantum computers to simultaneously explore several possibilities when traditional computers have to run each option one at a time.

There are several different ways to build a quantum computer, and the technology is so new nobody knows what’s best yet. Scientists are still working out how to make them meet expectations and be of practical use.

The goal is to achieve quantum supremacy (aka quantum advantage) – when a quantum computer vastly outperforms a conventional machine on a given task.

Google was the first to achieve quantum supremacy in 2019. The company claims that its 53-qubit Sycamore processor performed a computation within 200 seconds.

That same task would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. The Sycamore is based on qubits represented by superconducting materials.

This year, a China team developed a photon-based quantum computer that demonstrated quantum supremacy – the second group to do so since Google. The device (called Jiuzhang) is made to carry out a single specific type of calculation— Gaussian boson sampling.

It performed so well that it conducted a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s best supercomputer 2.5 billion years to complete. That’s over half the age of Earth!

Jian-Wei Pan, a scientist from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, said:

We have shown that we can use photons, the fundamental unit of light, to demonstrate quantum computational power well beyond the classical counterpart.

The calculation that they carried out — called the boson-sampling problem — is not just a convenient vehicle for demonstrating quantum advantage, but has potential practical applications in graph theory, quantum chemistry, and machine learning.

Physicist Ian Walmsley at Imperial College London said:

This is certainly a tour de force experiment and an important milestone.

If the team can build a programmable chip with such power, several crucial computational problems could be solved, such as how molecules vibrate and how proteins dock to one another.

Other quantum news coming from China includes a team of scientists who have achieved quantum communication by satellites. They successfully sent a quantum-encrypted message hundreds of miles further than anyone’s ever sent one before.

Meanwhile, in the US, a startup called IonQ revealed its next-generation quantum computer system that will be available for purchase soon, and quantum physicists working for the Department of Energy are on the verge of developing a quantum internet. 

Quantum teleportation is also in the works in New York, with a team recently managing to transport massless particles (photons) and particles of matter (electrons).

Originally published at Intelligent living