Soon we could all be using extremely powerful PCs much faster than those we currently use, if Google succeed in their quest to achieve "Quantum Supremacy" that is. In a secret building somewhere in California, Google is quietly working on the largest ever quantum computer which could usher in a new era of computing which is based on the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics.
Normal computing devices such as laptops, desktops, tablets and mobiles and even super computers rely on traditional binary 1's and 0's to carry out their calculations and produce everything that you see on your screen. These devices have served us extremely well over the last few decades, but are ultimately limited in terms of their memory capacity and processing power.
Google hopes to achieve "Quantum Supremacy" by building a quantum computer that is not only functional but can perform calculations that are out of reach of even today's most powerful machines. Current classical computers use bits of data represented by 1's and 0's to process data but their quantum counterparts can also make use of a third state, known as a "qubit" which can be a 1 and a 0 at the same time.This third state takes advantage of a peculiar state in quantum mechanics known as superposition where particles are in no fixed state.
The biggest challenge in quantum computing is proving that they can be significantly better than computers that we have today, and that is a difficult task, but Google wants to be the first to achieve it. To achieve it, they will have to build a machine with just 50 qubits, which is still incredibly ambitious as they have only publicly announced that they have created a 9-qubit computer.
To prove that they have succeeded, Google have chosen to simulate the behaviour of a random arrangement of quantum circuits according to New Scientist. This is incredibly difficult for a classical computer to do without simplifying the problem with approximations. To date they have used one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, Edison. Google have so far simulated the behaviour of quantum circuits on a 6x7 grid of qubits, so 42 in total. Any increase in grid size increases the amount of memory required dramatically. So for example, a 6x4 grid would require 268 MB of memory, but Google's current grid of 6x7 requires an unbelievable 70 terabytes. Going beyond this is a step too far in terms of what is currently technically achievable because a 48-qubit grid would require a colossal 2.252 petabytes of memory, which is double that of the top supercomputer in the world. So its clear that if Google solve the problem with a 50-qubit computer, then they will have created the fastest computer in existence today.
So when do we expect Google to make this breakthrough? Well, Simon Devitt at the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science in Japan, told New Scientist: "I’m going to be optimistic and say maybe at the end of next year.'
He added: "If they get it done even within the next five years, that will be a tremendous leap forward."
This is awesome news because quantum computers will have the ability to run some incredible calculations which we currently don't have the resources to do. They will be able to do some really cool things like discover distant planets, help detect cancer and predict the weather much more precisely. However, don't expect to have a quantum computer on your desk any time soon as the software that we have today just wouldn't run without a signifiant modification. In fact new operating systems and software may have to be written and maybe even new programming languages!
Check out the video by Google below, which shows the early days of the Quantum AI Lab.
Photo credit: D-Wave