IBM might have just changed the computing game in a major way. Nobody’s seen a research paper yet, but Big Blue’s quantum department is claiming that its mysterious “Eagle” processor has achieved quantum supremacy.
Eureka? IBM CEO Arvind Krishna gave Axios on HBO the exclusive. According to them, the Eagle processor is capable of doing things no supercomputer can do.
In fact, per the interview, Krishna says there’s no other system on the planet, classical or quantum, that can do what Eagle can do:
It is impossible to simulate it on something else, which implies it’s more powerful than anything else.
Healthy skepticism: We’re not sure exactly what Eagle does. Modern quantum computers usually solve bespoke problems that have little-to-no impact on society. This is because the technology is in its infancy. The point of building a quantum computer, today, is to see how far we can push this rudimentary technology on our way towards a simple goal: quantum supremacy.
Supremacy (sometimes called “advantage”) is the point at which a quantum system can solve a problem that no classical supercomputer could feasibly solve.
IBM says its system has done that. According to Krishna, per the Axios interview, it would take “a normal computer bigger than this planet” to do what Eagle can do. However, as previously mentioned, there isn’t any peer-reviewed research available yet.
And that’s a pretty big deal because we’ve seen these kinds of claims before.
Background: Google built a quantum computing system back in 2018 called “Sycamore” that was supposedly capable of quantum supremacy. At the time, the team behind it claimed it could perform a specific task in minutes that would take a classical supercomputer 10,000 years or more.
Unfortunately for Google and NASA, IBM was pretty quick to clap back with the fact that one of its classical supercomputers could run the same process in a matter of hours, putting to rest Google’s claim of quantum supremacy. It happened again in 2019 with Google’s Bristlecone chip, which failed to demonstrate true quantum advantage after it was announced.
And, more recently, a team of researchers in China claim to have created a quantum system that’s allegedly 10 billion times faster than Google’s. But, again, we haven’t seen it replicated in peer-review.
Quick take: Quantum advantage, quantum supremacy, quantum this, quantum that. The reality of the situation is that we could be a decade or more away from a useful quantum computer. These arbitrary terms are meant to indicate that humanity is closing in on making these hypothetical machines a reality. They’re not benchmarks.
But the Ford Model T didn’t blow horses off the streets like a 2021 Bugatti Chiron would. It’ll take awhile for quantum computers to demonstrate their value even after we’ve achieved a clear and demonstrable quantum advantage.
All of that being said, if there’s one company I’d trust with a “quantum supremacy” announcement, it’s IBM. The company’s been quick to dispute other claims in the same domain. IBM knows exactly what message it’s putting out there. And it says a lot that the CEO made the announcement. This feels like a genuine eureka moment.
Hang on to that grain of salt, however, at least until we see some peer review. But in the meantime I’d rate this news as the second most exciting thing we’ve heard in the quantum realm all year.
In first place: we still can’t get over these mind-blowing time crystals from Google.