Every great tech company is looking at quantum computers as the next great development in computing. Teams at Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel and different other startups and academic labs are competing to become the first one to achieve quantum supremacy — which is, the point where a quantum computer can run certain algorithms quicker than a classical computer possibly could.
Today, Google stated that it believes that Bristlecone, its recent quantum processor, will put it on a path to reach quantum supremacy in the future. The purpose of Bristlecone, Google states, it to issue its researchers with a test environment “for research into system error rates and scalability of our qubit technology, as well as applications in quantum simulation, optimization, and machine learning.”
One of the greater issues that all quantum computers have to face is error rates. Quantum computers typically run at relatively low temperatures (we’re talking millikelvins here) and are shielded from the environment because today’s quantum bits are still highly rocky and any noise can lead to mistakes.
Because of this, the qubits in modern quantum processors (the quantum computing versions of traditional bits) are not really single qubits but often a combination of many bits to assist account for potential errors. Another limited factor right now is that most of these systems can only protect their state for under 100 microseconds.
The systems that Google previously demonstrated described an error rate of one percent for readout, 0.1 percent for single-qubit and 0.6 percent for two-qubit gates.
Every Bristlecone chip constitutes 72 qubits. The general assumption in the industry is that it will take 49 qubits to acquire quantum supremacy, but Google also warns that a quantum computer is not just about qubits. Today the team wrires that, “Operating a device such as Bristlecone at low system error requires harmony between a full stack of technology ranging from software and control electronics to the processor itself.” It also mentions, “Getting this right requires careful systems engineering over several iterations.”
Google’s report today will put some new stress on other teams that are also working on developing functional quantum computers. What’s interesting about the present state of the industry is that everybody is taking different approaches.
Microsoft is at present a bit backward in that its team has not actually produced a qubit yet, but at the same time, once it does, its approach, which is very unique from Google’s, could instantly lead to a 49 qubit machine. Microsoft is also focusing on a programming language for quantum computing.
IBM at present has a 50-qubit machine in its labs and lets developers play with a cloud-based simulation of a quantum computer.
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