Researchers in UC Santa Barbara/Google scientist John Martinis’ group have made good on their claim to quantum supremacy. Using 53 entangled quantum bits (“qubits”), their Sycamore computer has taken on and solved a problem considered intractable for classical computers.
“A computation that would take 10,000 years on a classical supercomputer took 200 seconds on our quantum computer,” said Brooks Foxen, a graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group. “It is likely that the classical simulation time, currently estimated at 10,000 years, will be reduced by improved classical hardware and algorithms, but, since we are currently 1.5 billion times faster, we feel comfortable laying claim to this achievement.”
The feat is outlined in a paper in the journal Nature.
The milestone comes after roughly two decades of quantum computing research conducted by Martinis and his group, from the development of a single superconducting qubit to systems including architectures of 72 and, with Sycamore, 54 qubits (one didn’t perform) that take advantage of properties of quantum mechanics.
“The algorithm was chosen to emphasize the strengths of the quantum computer by leveraging the natural dynamics of the device,” said Ben Chiaro, another graduate student researcher in the Martinis Group. That is, the researchers wanted to test the computer’s ability to hold and rapidly manipulate a vast amount of complex, unstructured data.
“We basically wanted to produce an entangled state involving all of our qubits as quickly as we can,” Foxen said, “and so we settled on a sequence of operations that produced a complicated superposition state that, when measured, returned output ("bitstring") with a probability determined by the specific sequence of operations used to prepare that particular superposition." The exercise, which was to verify that the circuit’s output corresponds to the sequence used to prepare the state, sampled the quantum circuit a million times in just a few minutes, exploring all possibilities — before the system could lose its quantum coherence.
‘A complex superposition state’
According to the new paper, the researchers used a method called cross-entropy benchmarking to compare the quantum circuit’s bitstring to its “corresponding ideal probability computed via simulation on a classical computer” to ascertain that the quantum computer was working correctly.
While the experiment was chosen as a proof-of-concept for the computer, the research has resulted in a very real and valuable tool: a certified random number generator. The speed with which the quantum circuit can produce its randomized bitstring is so great that there is no time to analyze and “cheat” the system.
With an achievement like “quantum supremacy,” it’s tempting to think that the UC Santa Barbara/Google researchers will plant their flag and rest easy. But for Foxen, Chiaro, Martinis and the rest of the UCSB/Google AI Quantum group, this is just the beginning.
In the long term, however, the scientists are always looking to improve coherence times, or, at the other end, to detect and fix errors, which would take many additional qubits per qubit being checked. These efforts have been running parallel to the design and build of the quantum computer itself, and ensure the researchers have a lot of work before hitting their next milestone.