After years of experimentation and setbacks, Google has announced they have reached the first steps into “quantum supremacy”. This could be a major breakthrough that would be able to completely change the landscape of computer and technology. A quantum computer would be able to generate results at a speed that not even the world’s fastest supercomputer could come close to. But what exactly is behind one of these computers, and why do we want extra speed?
At its core, a quantum computer is a change in the paradigm of computation. Since the advent of our first computer, the representation of data has been based in a binary system using the simple bit like a building block. A bit can be either a 1 or a 0 – which can be interpreted as a basic ‘true or false’ test. When numerous bits are combined together they are able to represent more complex data – think about numbers, letters, or even software.
But quantum computers wish to go beyond this simple data representation. Their basic building block is not the bit, but the qubit. Like the bit, a qubit can either be 1 or 0, but it can also represent anything in between a 1 or a 0. With this arrangement, the qubit is able to represent more data than a single bit can. In essence, a qubit is a more effective building block since it can store more information that can be processed faster than ever before.
With this in mind, what does quantum supremacy actually entail? In a nutshell, quantum supremacy is the moment a quantum computer is able to do something a classical computer can’t. Google’s quantum computer accomplished this with a very simple task – generating random numbers. The curious aspect of this seemingly mundane task was the way it was done. The quantum computer was able to generate an amount of numbers in 200 seconds that would take a regular computer 10,000 years. Beyond just generating numbers more efficiently, quantum computing simply allows for better ways of dealing with data.