It is almost a century since Niels Bohr won the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum physics. Whilst applications from his work have emerged across diverse fields and solved real world problems, quantum computing has been a mega promise yet to see real world applications. From that perspective, Google’s announcement this week that their 53-bit quantum computer Sycamore took 200 seconds to perform a calculation that otherwise would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years, sounds like a step-progress of sorts. Gideon Lichfield grills Google CEO Sundar Pichai on what exactly this means for mankind whilst Pichai guardedly alludes to the bigger picture of progress for the sake of progress. Afterall, Niels Bohr famously said of the inherent paradoxical or ambivalent nature of quantum physics and what it means for progress: “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
“….To borrow an analogy—the Wright brothers. The first plane flew only for 12 seconds, and so there is no practical application of that. But it showed the possibility that a plane could fly.
“We’re only one creative algorithm away from valuable near-term applications.”
The real excitement about quantum is that the universe fundamentally works in a quantum way, so you will be able to understand nature better. It’s early days, but where quantum mechanics shines is the ability to simulate molecules, molecular processes, and I think that is where it will be the strongest. Drug discovery is a great example. Or fertilizers—the Haber process produces 2% of carbon [emissions] in the world [see Note 1]. In nature the same process gets done more efficiently.
…Caffeine has 2^43 states or something like that…. We know we can’t even understand the basic structure of molecules today with classical computing. So when I look at climate change, when I look at medicines, this is why I am confident one day quantum computing will drive progress there.”
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