In a leaked paper, Google revealed it had built a quantum computer that solved a problem that would take supercomputers 10,000 years. Now things are about to get really exciting

A draft research paper erroneously uploaded to Nasa’s website accidentally tipped the world off that Google had reached a quantum computing milestone: quantum supremacy.

It’s a goal that Google – and its competitors – had in their sights for years. In 2017, the firm predicted it’d reach quantum supremacy by the end of that year, but that deadline came and went without any breakthrough. In the intervening years, IBM and Intel nipped at Google’s heels, testing quantum computers with ever-increasing numbers of qubits – the units of information that are the reason that quantum computers are so potentially powerful.

Now it appears that Google has reached this particular milestone ahead of its competitors. The draft paper details how Google researchers used a quantum processor called Sycamore containing 53 functioning qubits to solve a random sampling problem that would have taken the world’s best supercomputers 10,000 years to work out. It took Sycamore just three minutes and 20 seconds.

But this breakthrough doesn’t mean that useful quantum computers are just around the corner. Not by a long shot. Instead, Google has just kicked open the door to the next era of quantum computing.

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