Google unintentionally leaks successful quantum computing experiment

Cade Petrie, Staff Writer

Last week, Google unintentionally leaked a paper detailing the company’s experiments in quantum computing to a NASA lab website. 

The paper was quickly taken down, but copies of it circulated online for a few days afterwards. The paper detailed the results of a calculation done on a quantum computer at the Center for Spintronics and Quantum Computation at UCSB. 

The paper claimed to accomplish in three minutes and 20 seconds a calculation which would take 10,000 years on the most advanced computer of today. John Martinis, head physicist of Google’s quantum computing effort in Santa Barbara, refused to comment on the paper. 

While some in the field of quantum research believe the paper to be nonviable, others call it legitimate, and Chad Rigetti, founder of Rigetti Computing, calls it “a great scientific achievement.” 

The paper seems to be the beginnings of Google’s claim to quantum supremacy, defined as the demonstrated superiority of quantum computers over classical supercomputers at certain difficult tasks.

Quantum computing is a very recent phenomenon — formerly thought to be impossible — and Google’s successful calculation performed on a quantum computer at UCSB’s lab is a significant milestone in the field.

 Though the calculation completed has no practical uses as of yet, the fact that it was even accomplished at all is historic news. Greg Kuperberg, a mathematician at UC Davis, says the experiment is a great help in “kicking away any plausible argument that making a quantum computer is impossible.” 

Quantum computing aims to use the peculiar behavior of quantum mechanics to quickly perform calculations that could take a standard computer years or decades. For example, quantum computers could simulate hundreds of electrons interacting with atoms in a few days and output a step-by-step version of a complex chemical reaction, something impossible for current computing capability.

Despite the apparent success of Google’s experimental calculation, some in the field of quantum computing are skeptical of its claims. Dario Gil, director of IBM research in Yorktown Heights, New York, says that the implementation of “one very specific quantum sampling procedure with no practical applications” does not amount to a demonstration of quantum supremacy. 

Gil also worries that for all the build-up towards quantum supremacy, the field as a whole may experience a lag while the technology trails behind the ambitions of the field’s leaders. 

Google’s paper, however, seems optimistic. Its 76 authors end by stating: “We are only one creative algorithm away from valuable near-term applications.”