IBM just proved quantum computers can do things impossible for classical ones

IBM just proved quantum computers can do things impossible for classical ones
Credit: Nicole Gray

A team of researchers from IBM, the University of Waterloo, and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) today published the results of an experiment proving a quantum computer can do things a classical one cannot. This may be a watershed moment in the history of computer science.

The term for a clear case in which a quantum computer can perform computations or run algorithms that no classical computer, now or in the conceivable future, could is “quantum advantage.” Until now, it’s never been achieved.

Sure, there are algorithms that, theoretically couldn’t be run on a classical system. But none of those theories have been proven. Now quantum advantage is no longer up for debate.

One of the authors on the paper, TUM’s Robert Konig, told Phys.orgOur result shows that quantum information processing really does provide benefits—without having to rely on unproven complexity-theoretic conjectures.”

The team set out, specifically, to prove that quantum computers can do something (anything, really) regular computers can’t. To do this, they simply built a quantum circuit that solves a complex algebraic formula through the exploitation of a quantum physics loophole allowing things to be in two places at once. No biggie.

This particular formula, according to the researchers, cannot be solved using classical computer circuits. You can read the whole paper here if you want to know more about how the team demonstrated actual quantum advantage.

As for what this accomplishment means? Well, there’s nothing tangible to point out. The algorithm that the researchers ran wasn’t an algebraic mystery whose solution will result in any immediate impact – at least as best as we can tell. It was, almost certainly, developed simply to prove it could be done.

But that’s the point. By showing that the people claiming quantum advantage was a fantasy were wrong, and that the research is heading in the right direction, we’re closer than ever to realizing the potential of quantum computing.

The field of quantum computing may be decades from producing something that changes “everything” in the way that media hype and marketing teams would have us all believe. But proof of quantum advantage is the guarantee that this research is going to pay off some day.

Hats off to the team that made it happen. For more information visit IBM’s blog here.

Read next: Twitter now shows if a tweet was deleted for policy violations