Quantum primacy: is it real (and if so, does it matter)?

The link of continued competition between nations and companies (such as Google and IBM) to demonstrate quantum primacy has shifted to a university in China where not one, but two experimental quantum computers are said to have shown that quantum primacy is feasible.

Quantum primacy is when a quantum computer is able to solve computational problems that are beyond the capabilities of traditional “classical” computers, tied as they are to their picturesque system of ones and zeros.

Do not mistake yourself ; classical computers have long served with distinction. The abacus also in its time. However, as society’s IT challenges became more complex, such as sharing a restaurant bill in 11 ways between your cheap and quarrelsome family members, this old computing device has finally given way. using a digital calculator.

But in what Barry Sanders, director of the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology at the University of Calgary in Canada, calls “dramatic tour de force(Emphasis added), research teams at the China University of Science and Technology “may have established an advantage that is difficult to question by demonstrating quantum primacy in two distinct systems: one photonic, the other superconductor ”.

For context, previous claims of quantum primacy apparently drew criticism from skeptics who questioned whether the quantum computations in question were compared to the best algorithms or implementations the classic had to offer. Kind of like pitting a combat robot against an overweight, middle-aged software developer with carpal tunnel syndrome. If the machine competitor wins, can we legitimately conclude that this demonstrates “robot primacy”?

This pair of experiments led by physics professor and quantum physicist Jian-Wei Pan, writes Sanders, may dispel those doubts as they have grown huge:

The two main results of the Pan group push experimental quantum computing to problems of much larger size, which makes it much more difficult to find classical algorithms and classical computers capable of keeping pace. The results take us further to reliable claims that we have indeed reached the age of computational quantum primacy.

Yet is quantum primacy really important? IBM researchers argue not. In casting a shadow over Google’s claim in 2019 that it had achieved “quantum supremacy,” Big Blue had some rather scathing and contemptuous things to say.

Google, IBM snorted in a blog post, says its “device has reached ‘quantum supremacy’ and” a state-of-the-art supercomputer would take around 10,000 years to perform the equivalent task. ” We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a conventional system in 2.5 days and with much greater fidelity.. This is actually a conservative worst-case estimate, and we anticipate that with further improvements, the classic cost of simulation may be further reduced. “

Keep in mind that IBM is also deeply rooted in its own research in quantum computing, so it doesn’t really hold on to the past. He just claims that there is room in the world for the steam engine. and horse.

Quantum computers will never reign “supreme” over classical computers, writes IBM. On the contrary, they will work together “since everyone has their unique strengths”.

This is not an unreasonable view, especially since quantum computers are extremely difficult to build and evolve and are incredibly sensitive to environmental “noise”. So, you won’t see any commonly deployed quantum computers in the near future no matter what on Best Buy’s shelves.

Yet the results of the two experiments conducted by Chinese researchers are another sign of progress, and it will be interesting to see who claims the next breakthrough.

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