(FastCompany) It’s worth thinking about the whole idea of Quantum Supremacy for those of us who don’t happen to be computer scientists– and how it parallels past defining moments in technological progress—or doesn’t. Google’s scientists recently declared they had achieved”quantum supremacy,” having built a quantum system capable of finishing a task that traditional computers simply can’t perform. This achievement has been compared to Sputnik and the Wright Brothers first flight.
Quantum supremacy as originally explained by Caltech professor John Preskill, who coined the term and popularized it in an influential 2012 paper, quantum supremacy isn’t about a single inflection point but an era—one in which “we will be able to perform tasks with controlled quantum systems going beyond what can be achieved with ordinary digital computers.”
Adjudicating Quantum Supremacy’s Arrival
Google’s quantum-computing rival IBM contended that quantum supremacy’s moment had not yet arrived.
Adjudicating Google and IBM’s difference of opinion is an impractical task for those of us who don’t happen to be brilliant computer scientists. But it’s still worth thinking about the whole idea of Quantum Supremacy and how it parallels past defining moments in technological progress—or doesn’t.
Ultimately, Google’s quantum computer shouldn’t be judged by whether it renders alternative methods of computing obsolete, any more than whether we obsess over whether the Wrights killed off hot-air balloons. Sputnik didn’t do much except circle the earth and beep–yet it was the start of the space age.”
The author of this article is Harry McCracken, the technology editor for Fast CompanyIn past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.