Brace Yourself for Quantum Supremacy
Get your knowledge of quantum computing on track because it looks like it's a viable, if very hard, high-performance computing option after all.
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Earlier this month, Google’s quantum computing lab seemed to announce that they had proved “quantum supremacy” before the paper was pulled from public view again. This leak was presumably accidental, as the underlying research has been accepted for publication by Nature, but is still under embargo.
You might also like: An Introduction to Quantum Computing
For the uninitiated, quantum supremacy is the concrete illustration that a quantum computer can complete a computation that a classical supercomputer cannot achieve (or would take prohibitively long to do). In this case, Google’s researchers used a quantum computer with 53 qubits (hold on if you’re unfamiliar with this term, I’ll explain it shortly) to perform a calculation that took three minutes but would take Summit, the world’s most powerful classical supercomputer, 10,000 years to achieve.
An expert in Quantum Computing posed an important question back in 2012, saying:
“Is controlling large-scale quantum systems merely really, really hard, or is it ridiculously hard?
Now that quantum supremacy has likely been achieved, although it’s still going to be a long time in coming, it seems that quantum computing technology will eventually be feasible (just really, really hard).
If, as a software professional, you are interested in how can you get into this field, and maybe help advance it, the rest of this article is for you! If you’re not sure, here’s a short video from The Economist to brief you on quantum computing technology.
The Basics of Quantum Computing
There are three phenomena to get your head around in quantum computing:
This is the idea behind Schrödinger’s cat. In classical computing, computers represent information using bits, which can either be one or zero. Quantum computing uses qubits, and these can be a mixture of both values. A machine with 53 qubits, such as Google’s, can use them to represent nearly ten million billion possible different states.
This is the noodle-baking arena of quantum computing and involves combining time and space. In a classical computer, each bit is independent of the others, but in quantum machines, qubits can be entangled, and an operation on one may apply to them all at once.
Without going into crushing levels of detail, quantum mechanics uses amplitudes to determine a solution to a calculation by canceling out those incorrect answers and reinforcing the correct solution.
Find Out More!
The above probably sounds complex, but the theory is the straightforward part. In a lab, the quantum machine is subject to all kinds of interference: it’s high maintenance and delicate, needing to be isolated in storage that is colder than deep space simply to enable normal operation.
If this kind of science sounds like something you’d be interested in finding out about, where should you start looking? Here are a few pointers!
Anyone in the field will recommend “Mike and Ike” as the bible for this topic. O’Reilly also published a well-received introductory book this summer, and their Safari online learning platform is well worth using for access to this and other materials (I don’t work for O’Reilly, but always promote Safari as it is GREAT value for money).
Check out Scott Aaronson (his blog post on the bungled supremacy announcement I mention above, for example). Just Google him and watch his videos and check out the courses he delivers at UT Austin. He is a well of information on the topic and you’ll get a solid background if you can keep up with his firehose of information on the topic.
Saint Petersburg University has a well-received introductory course available on Coursera. EdX also offers a university course, from TU Delft, which introduces the basic concepts and the hardware. Other online MOOC suppliers, such as Udemy, offer courses created by individuals, but as I haven’t investigated those myself, I would be cautious about recommending them as they are not free. If you find one that is good, please let everyone know in the comments below.
If you are based in the UK, The Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (NQIT) provides some useful resources and is dedicated to encouraging new engineers into the field.
Please let me know your favorite resources for learning and staying in touch with advances in Quantum Computing in the comments!
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