Google’s quantum computer speeds up, but practical use is unclear

QUANTUM CHIP Google’s D-Wave 2X quantum computer runs on a processor similar to this one. The computer is getting faster, but it’s still unclear whether it will ever outperform regular computers at completing useful tasks.

Courtesy of D-Wave Systems Inc.

Google’s high-profile quantum computer is definitely getting better, a December 7 study posted at arXiv.org reveals. But the question remains of whether it will ever outperform traditional computers at practical applications such as speech recognition.

Since 2013, Google scientists have been testing a quantum computer purchased from the Canadian company D-Wave. The new study shows that the upgraded machine Google received earlier this year, the D-Wave 2X, uses quantum tricks to solve some problems 100 million times as fast as an Intel processor running a particular kind of algorithm. The catch is that the advantage disappears for many other types of problems or if the regular computer runs optimized algorithms, ETH Zurich scientists write in a response to the study.

Google director of engineering Hartmut Neven writes in a blog post that he is optimistic about translating his team’s recent progress into practical technology. But, he writes, “there is more work ahead.”

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