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The Race to Sell True Quantum Computers Begins Before They Really Exist
WITHIN THE NEXT five years, Google will produce a viable quantum computer. That’s the stake the company has just planted. In the pages of Nature late last week, researchers from Google’s Quantum AI Laboratory told the world that a machine leveraging the seemingly magical principles of quantum mechanics will soon outperform traditional computers on certain tasks. They said this long-anticipated technology will, among other things, improve the artificial intelligence that’s already remaking the tech world. “The field of quantum computing will soon achieve a historic milestone,” the team wrote. They call this milestone “quantum supremacy.”
Now IBM is planting a stake of its own. Today, the company announced plans to offer commercial quantum machines to businesses and research organizations within the year. These machines will not bring quantum supremacy—namely, they won’t surpass the performance of traditional machines. But much like Google, IBM claims it will reach that threshold over the next few years.
…Both Google and IBM now say they will offer access to true quantum computing over the internet (call it quantum cloud computing). Microsoft recently hired several notable researchers in launching its own effort to build a quantum computer. And in China, internet giant Alibaba has teamed up with the Chinese Academy of Science to build a quantum computing lab. Meanwhile, various organizations (including Google) are exploring the potential of a commercial machine from D-Wave, which takes a more immediate but less powerful approach to the problem.
…In the short-term, researchers believe quantum machines cannot only accelerate the progress of machine learning but significantly improve the development of new medications, streamline our financial markets, and even solve traffic problems.
…In Nature, Google compares this power to the recent rise of deep neural networks, complex mathematical systems that learn discrete tasks—such as image recognition and machine translation—by analyzing vast amounts of data. These systems make mistakes, and in any given situation, it’s hard to completely understand how and why they work. And yet they have proven enormously effective at everything from image recognition to the most complex of games. “A lack of theoretical guarantees,” the Google researchers say of quantum computing, “need not preclude success.” Google and IBM are talking big. But not without uncertainty.