(Quanta) John Preskill, Quanta’s Contributing Columnist, discusses why he coined the term “quantum supremacy” in 2012.
Preskill explains his term “quantum supremacy” describes the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can’t, regardless of whether those tasks are useful. With that new term, he wanted to emphasize that this is a privileged time in the history of our planet, when information technologies based on principles of quantum physics are ascendant.
He said the phrase “quantum supremacy” proved to be controversial for two reasons. One is that supremacy, through its association with white supremacy, evokes a repugnant political stance. The other reason is that the word exacerbates the already overhyped reporting on the status of quantum technology. The term caught on, and it has been embraced with particular zeal by the Google AI Quantum team. The quantum supremacy milestone allegedly achieved by Google is a pivotal step in the quest for practical quantum computers.
Looking forward, Preskill has coined a new term for the era that is now dawning–NISQ. (It rhymes with risk.) This stands for “noisy intermediate-scale quantum.” Here “intermediate-scale” refers to the size of quantum computers that are now becoming available: potentially large enough to perform certain highly specialized tasks beyond the reach of today’s supercomputers. “Noisy” emphasizes that we have imperfect control over the qubits, resulting in small errors that accumulate over time; if we attempt too long a computation, we’re not likely to get the right answer.

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