Google announced in Nature on the 23rd October 2019 that it has achieved 'quantum supremacy', demonstrating the ability of quantum devices to solve problems that classical computers practically cannot.
In a world first, researchers and collaborators of Google carried out a specific calculation using a quantum computer that would take classical supercomputers an estimated 10,000 years to complete.
Quantum supremacy is a milestone because it proves that quantum computing can outperform classical computers. But, what are quantum computers?
While classical computing uses ‘bits’ – single pieces of information that can exist in two states, 1 or 0 – quantum computing uses ‘quantum bits’, or ‘qubits’ – pieces of information that can exist in any state between 1 and 0. If classical computing uses the North and South poles, quantum computing uses the whole world. This allows much more information to be stored, operations to be run more quickly, and relatively much less energy to be used. Quantum computing is potentially revolutionary and could catalyse and shift Industry 4.0.
For example, quantum computers are much better suited to modelling chemical reactions than classical computers. They can be used to help design new molecules for use in medicine, or to model the very energy intensive Haber-Bosch process in the hopes of designing a more efficient process.
Quantum computers are also much better suited to finding very large prime numbers – which are important in cryptography – meaning they are also much better at cracking systems that currently keep information secure, posing significant cyber security risks.
However, useful quantum computers are still decades away. Google’s announcement may be a milestone, but the future of quantum computing is still very uncertain.