Google, Emily Conover, Rachelle Rachelle Sanders discussed on Science for the People

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After we recorded this segment. Amy Got Access to new numbers from the monitoring the future survey about just how many teams are vaping marijuana. I WANNA the numbers. Between February and June of Twenty nineteen. Fourteen percent of twelfth graders and twelve point. Six percent of tenth graders have vape marijuana in the previous thirty days. He's linked to coverage of those new numbers on our website. Now take it away Rachelle Rachelle Sanders here. Picking up with our next top science story story from twenty nineteen this one. I've been following a someone interested in both physics and computing joining me as Emily conover physics reporter at Science News News to catch us up on the latest news from the field of quantum computing. Emily welcome back to science for the people. Thanks for having me so. In September this year some rumors rumer started surfacing that Google had achieved a milestone in the quest for quantum computing which is known as quantum supremacy and later in October. Google officially confirmed they were in fact making this claim so setting aside for a minute what Google did or didn't actually do what is quantum supremacy. Yes so it's a milestone that people have been working towards And it marks the point where a quantum computer can do something the standard computer. That's not based on quantum mechanics cannot and it doesn't have to be a useful calculation. It's just anything that it can do that A A non quantum computer can't and that includes supercomputer so the biggest supercomputer in the world if it cannot do this task that a quantum computer can do than that's quantum supremacy got it so when we're talking about a classic computer can't do this task where current supercomputer can't do this task. I'm assuming that there's is like a benchmark of we're not going to keep trying for like a thousand years to see if it can do this task. It's something that would take if it's possible a real long time right. Yeah it's IT IT IS A. There's a a long time that it would take to to do the task. Sometimes you can get to a point where it's impossible to do within the age of the universe or something like that at an but at this for this discovery I think it was thousands of years so well. How long did it take the quantum computer to do this? It took it about two hundred seconds. Oh Wow so. That's a significant difference. Yeah it really is so I want to talk a little bit more about this milestone kind of in the abstract quantum supremacy milestone. I mean it sounds like it's a major milestone Just because it's I guess it sounds like it's the first time that a quantum computer will actually be able to significantly outperform classical computer. Yeah that's that's that's pretty much what it is but it always has to be sort of clarified that it's not a particularly useful thing that this quantum computer did And and that's what quantum supremacy means It does not mean that quantum computers are now going to be doing everything you know. You're not going to be doing word processing thing on a quantum computer You're not going to be doing calculations on a quantum computer anytime soon. It's just this very specific task so since it was such a specific task and since it doesn't seem to have much utility. Can you talk a little bit about like the particulars around what this task was. Obviously quantum computing starts to get into some wacky physics stuff at the quantum level but Even just like a high level overview of what it was that Google did or his claims to have done. I think it'd be really helpful for people to understand what applications this thing doesn't have right. Well so what they did was they. Basically they had a quantum computer with fifty three cubits and these are the Cubans are these quantum version of the bits. That you find in in your normal computer. a normal computer can be a value of either zero or one for its bits but a cubit is some weird mash ship between the two called the quantum superposition And so they have fifty three these cubits and what they do is they basically perform random operations on those fifty three three cubits. It's like if you just wrote a code by you know mashing your keyboard having to random stuff then they run that program and what they get out is a bunch of random numbers But those random numbers have a certain distribution that is determined by quantum mechanics. That is sort of difficult for a normal computer to reproduce interesting so this very much has no utility it sounds like like zero utility even potentially from quantum physics standpoint. Well I would say the the funny thing is that it actually has has a little bit of utility for the purpose of actually generating random numbers. You verify that. These numbers are in fact. Random If you use use a system like this and and you know it's not actually that easy to get some truly random numbers from a computer So that's sort of the one task that this might actually be sort of useful for but it's not one that's like particularly GonNa change the world that's interesting for anybody who doesn't have a I deep knowledge of computing. I'm aware that randomness is really difficult. True proper randomness is really difficult to get a computer to do because a human has to somehow program grandma to be random and so if we want sort of true randomness for a computer we have to kind of feed in other things and correct me. If I'm wrong I think there's quite famously. Someone's got not like a wall of lava lamps that they use to feed into a competing center in order to generate that randomness. Yeah it is difficult to get randomness and so people have come up with all kinds of various ways to to try to get truly random numbers and so this is one possible way that you could do it. That's cool so there is potentially some small utility here but it sounds like we don't have to go running for the hills anytime soon because of course anytime we talk talk about quantum computing We get into quite quickly a rabbit hole. That gets into a lot of questions around modern. CRYPTOGRAPHY because a lot of of modern computing in modern cryptography works. Because certain types of computing activities are really hard Whereas some of that stuff if we can get quantum computers to work a lot faster on those types of tasks it can completely potentially break break? Sort sort of modern. CRYPTOGRAPHY right. Yeah that's true. There's you know sort of the the the big application for quantum computers that people talk about about is the fact that we are encryption is based on factoring large numbers into The prime crimes that make them up and that is very difficult With classical computer as you said and With a quantum computer it could be a lot faster and so that that type of encryption wouldn't work anymore once we have Quantum computers. But I would say that the quantum computers that we will need in order to do that application application will be much more powerful than what we have right now so it may be decades before we get to that point so this news is really about a benchmark in in research a kind of small step for mankind kind of thing In a real sense is not actively changing anything for the computing world. Right right now. We don't have Dell or apple rolling out new quantum computers in the next five years right. Yeah it's more sort of planting a flag Saying you you know were here we can do this week. We've shown that in fact quantum computers do have capabilities that other computers do not which is an important thing to show and you hadn't been shown yet And so that's sort of where this stances as a marker for The potential usefulness of this technology in the future. I'm curious to find out what some of the response has been to this milestone that Google has claimed Have you been watching some of the response. Do you have any idea of how kind of the broader industry or the the other research groups have respond to this claim from Google. Yeah I would say the response has been pretty split. There's a good number of people who think it's a really exciting development and you know saying it's opening up a new paradigm and it's The then there's another half of the community that says a quantum supremacy isn't the right milestone to shoot for anyway or IBM which says that. They think that this sexually doesn't count as quantum supremacy. IBM came out with a paper Just before are Google's peer reviewed paper came out but after the The rumors about the paper Which said that in fact the The task which the was supposed to take the supercomputer ten thousand years to do a but which the quantum computer performed in in two hundred seconds. They said that. Actually if you had a better. They came up with a better algorithm for doing that calculation on the supercomputer and they said that it could be done in much less time and so that it was in fact reasonable to achieve with a supercomputer. which would mean that? They haven't actually achieved quantum supremacy. So it's a little but You know there's there's been a lot of back and forth and there's a little bit of question about how important it is and about a weather. They've actually done it or not. Where did the initial idea of quantum supremacy as a milestone come from because it seems to currently be a bit contentious? But I'm assuming at some point it was proposed by someone with an interest in that particular research to sort of be a big enough milestone that people have taken notice yeah it was a theoretical physicist named John Prescott. WHO's a big name in the quantum physics world and in twenty twelve? He came up with this as a milestone allstone and a lot of people latched onto it and a some people did not. There's also been criticism Some people don't like the term supremacy because of its association with White Supremacy So there's a movement to sort of change the terminology but that's kind of been the term. That's has stuck doc. So far that's what what people are using But there's other people who say We should use the term quantum advantage or are that we should not even shoot for quantum supremacy that we should shoot for an actually useful task as opposed to one that You know is not necessarily useful it. It's kind of an interesting concept. The idea of a useful task in computing. Because I think like if I think back to just other types of research research. We always kind of push back against usefulness as being a valid claim to justify certain types of research or certain types of activity because sometimes usefulness is discovered later Sometimes you take a thing that was just interesting and cool and kind of a bit of a new way to do something or a new way to think of something and fifty years twenty years one hundred years down the road. You suddenly find a way to utilize that prime numbers really big prime numbers. are a great example of something that was a mathematical curiosity. Didn't really have knee applications. And now we've got a bunch of cryptography based off of really large prime numbers. So it's interesting to me that there are people kind of pushing for something useful. But I'm curious to know how well they define what useful. Excuse me yeah I mean I think it is A. It is a question of Usefulness as in the eye of the beholder and you know this this that you could use the The techniques developed by google to generate random numbers that kind of came up Late in the game They weren't initially planning to use it for that but then they sort of it sort of became apparent that infected have a little bit of a use so yet that is kind of a funny Pity term I agree awesome. Well anything kind of coming out of this research. I know it's only been out out for a couple of months but it sounds like there's been a little bit of back and forth in that particular industry but have we heard any word on what next for the team from Google. Well Google has said that one of the things they wanted to next is Demonstrate a technique called quantum error correction. And so this is a big problem for Quantum computers the cubits that they work with are very delicate. And you know you get errors like a one flip in two zero or something else else and so they need a way to correct for that. If you WANNA be able to perform calculations that actually give you a sensible answer and so there's various ways of doing this and that's Basically by combining multiple cubits into one sort of act as one larger Kubat. And that way you're able to correct for these errors so that's one of the things that they said they were going to be working on. It's an interesting part of quantum computing that we take something like computing where there's a very firm sense of logic and a very clear understanding on how that logic works at either is or isn't it's a one or a zero and the transition kind of in my computing brain to think about quantum computing where fuzziness is like a built in part of how it works which seems like a bug rather than a feature but I the physics level. There's some benefits of that. It's it's it's a bit of a strange thing for someone who works quite heavily in the tech industry which is which is where my job is to kind of try and think think about that being a benefit. Yeah Yeah it's very strange. I mean everything about mechanics is is pretty strange so The quantum computing is. Just the same. It'll be really interesting to see what a world built on. Quantum computers might look like just like I'm sure fifty fifty years ago it would have been strange to think about what a world built on. Classical computers would look like and here..

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