In 1994, MIT professor of applied mathematics, Peter Shor, developed a groundbreaking quantum computing algorithm capable of factoring numbers (that is, finding the prime numbers for any integer N) using quantum computer technology. For the next decade, this algorithm provided a tantalizing glimpse at the potential prowess of quantum computing versus classical systems. However researchers could never definitively prove that quantum would always be faster in this application or whether classical systems could overtake quantum if given a sufficiently robust algorithm of its own. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, Dr. Sergey Bravyi and his team reveal that they've developed a mathematical proof which, in specific cases, illustrates the quantum algorithm's inherent computational advantages over classical. "It's good to know, because results like this become parts of algorithms," Bob Sutor, vice president of IBM Q Strategy and Ecosystem, told Engadget.
Quantum supremacy was supposed to be a significant benchmark to signal that quantum computers could finally solve problems beyond the capability of classical computers. The term "quantum supremacy" was first used in a 2012 paper by one of the world's leading theoretical physicists, John Preskill, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech. Last month, a leaked research paper declared that Google had attained quantum supremacy. According to the paper, Google's 53-qubit quantum computer, called Sycamore, had solved a problem in a few minutes that would take a classical computer 10,000 years to solve. Dario Gil, head of IBM quantum research, described the claim of quantum supremacy as indefensible and misleading.
A popular misconception is that the potential--and the limits--of quantum computing must come from hardware. In the digital age, we've gotten used to marking advances in clock speed and memory. Likewise, the 50-qubit quantum machines now coming online from the likes of Intel and IBM have inspired predictions that we are nearing "quantum supremacy"--a nebulous frontier where quantum computers begin to do things beyond the ability of classical machines.
As the technological progress codified as Moore's Law slows down, computer scientists are turning to alternative methods of computing, such as superconducting quantum processors to deliver computing gains in the future. Jeffrey Welser, vice president and lab director at IBM Research at Almaden, spoke about quantum computing at the 49th annual Semicon West chip manufacturing show in San Francisco last week. I caught up with him to get his take on quantum computing for the layperson. IBM also displayed a part of its IBM Q System at the show, giving us an idea of how much refrigeration technology has to be built around a current quantum processor to ensure its calculations are accurate. Binary digits -- ones and zeroes -- are the basic components of information in classical computers. Quantum bits, or qubits, are built on a much smaller scale.
Artificial intelligence has a sort of buzzword recently, and one that could be put to use in a varied number of fields. In the same manner, quantum computing has also generated newfound interest as a technological game-changer -- one that could, among many uses, improve cybersecurity and even build a new internet. While both have certainly gone a long way in terms of recent developments, both aren't yet as perfect as most want them to be.