Google says that its 54-qubit Sycamore processor was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years.
That would mean the calculation, which involved generated random numbers, is essentially impossible on a traditional, non-quantum computer.
William Oliver of MIT compared the feat to the first successful flight by the Wright brothers. “It is what the event represented, rather than what it practically accomplished, that was paramount,” he wrote in a commentary that accompanied the study.
Quantum computers work by embracing the strange nature of particles at the atomic scale.
Where classical computers store data as bits that are either a one or a zero, the quantum computing equivalent, called a qubit, can store information that’s part one and part zero.
Next, a quantum computer gangs multiple qubits together, dramatically increasing the number of possible states they can record.
Last, processing those qubits lets researchers explore countless possible solutions to a problem simultaneously instead of evaluating them one at a time.
It’s lousy for adding two and two, but potentially great for some problems classical computers just can’t cope with.