PMI #MIP2020 | Sycamore
For taking a quantum leap into the unknown
It was the research paper heard around the world: Google announced in October 2019 that it had achieved quantum supremacy with a new 54-qubit processor named Sycamore. The tech giant’s proclamation immediately spurred amazement, skepticism, jealousy and confusion.
Google’s assertion: Sycamore was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years.
Competitors cried foul at Google’s estimate. Rival IBM countered that a supercomputer could manage a similar task in only a couple days, meaning that Sycamore’s accomplishment, however significant, didn’t meet a “supremacy” criteria (i.e., ability to do what no conventional computer could). But others compared it to the original Wright Brothers flight and supercomputer Deep Blue’s victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov—proof, they claimed, that something new was on the horizon. Then in June, Honeywell claimed to have built an even higher-performing quantum computer, though it’s unclear how it stacks up to Sycamore.
So what’s the real-world benefit to this quantum tech race? Google says it’s looking at using Sycamore to generate powerful encryption keys. But if quantum computing becomes commercially viable, the technology could spawn a slew of new applications. Among the experiments that early adopters are exploring in a quest for tangible innovations:
- Automaker Daimler AG is working with IBM and Google to see if quantum computing can improve battery chemistry.
- Airplane manufacturer Airbus invested in quantum computing startup IonQ for help in simulating the physics of new aircraft.
- SavantX, Blume Global and Fenix Marine Services teamed up to explore ways to optimize port logistics with quantum computing.