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A Quantum of Incomprehension



A new phrase for me this month was quantum supremacy; apparently it’s the point where a quantum computer can do things that a normal computer can’t. The reason I picked up on this is because google ‘accidentally’ leaked an internal research paper to NASA saying that their quantum computer – Sycamore – had reached ‘quantum supremacy’.

Google pitched Sycamore and the current world’s fastest super computer called Summit a maths problem and while Sycamore solved it in 200 seconds they calculated that Summit might get there in 10,000 years.

IBM is a bit peeved about this as it made Summit and they reckon that if they were given a couple of days tweaking they could get Summit to solve it in 2.5 days. So I guess they have a point, Summit can do it, so it’s not impossible, but it seems that it’s only a matter of time now that one of these machines does something previously totally impossible.

The other reason IBM are peeved is because they have their own quantum machine called Q System One – possibly the only comprehensible thing about it – and wanted the breakthrough themselves so there’s a squabble about whether supremacy has been achieved or not.

These quantum machines are built out of qubits and each qubit can be in two states simultaneously. Really, you might as well stop reading now because that makes no sense at all and it can only get worse. The head of IBM’s research lab tells us, “Imagine that you had 100 perfect qubits, you would need to devote every atom of planet Earth to store bits to describe that state in a normal computer [as zeros and ones].” Apparently 280 qubits needs every atom in the universe, which seems a bit excessive to me.

Anyway, Q looks cool, dark and handsome and has a brain (almost) the size of the universe. Didn’t you just hate people like that at school?

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