Quantum Computers Really Are A One Trick Pony
Written by Mike James   
Sunday, 17 March 2024

Google is offering $5 million if you can think up a use for a quantum computer. Wait, I thought quantum computers were the next big thing, a revolution! Surely we know what they can do?

Google has poured lots of money into building a quantum computer and it is not alone. I have to admit that, being a physicist and well-versed in quantum mechanics, I started out being very interested in the idea, after all what better for a physicist programmer than a quantum computer. I spent a lot of time studying the idea, and Grover's and Shor's algorithms in particular. Both are clever and Shor's algorithm is clearly a route to a revolution as it promises to factor large numbers fast enough to crack the codes based on them that are simply too big to factor using today's non-quantum machines. Then I started to look round for other similarly clever algorithms and I failed to find them. Are there just two clever quantum algorithms? Could it be that there is only one "killer" quantum application?

Google, at what seems to me like a late stage in its quantum project has now asked us to consider the problem and be rewarded with $5 million if we have an answer:

"Today, Google Quantum AI and Google.org are joining XPRIZE and the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) to launch XPRIZE Quantum Applications, a 3-year, $5 million global competition to apply quantum computing to solve real-world challenges."

It is open to teams and is split into two parts:

"In a qualifying submission, teams will describe a socially beneficial application they aim to solve and provide an analysis of how long their algorithm would need to run on a quantum computer before reaching a solution. Up to 20 teams will share a $1 million prize purse and advance to the Finals."

Notice that there is no requirement for the algorithm to actually be run on a quantum computer, but you do need a runtime estimate.

"The semi-finalist teams will describe the hardware specifications needed to run their quantum algorithm, provide evidence that it is faster and/or more accurate than a classical computer solution, and project the positive impact it would have on broader society if it could be implemented on real quantum hardware. A $3 million purse will be allocated among up to 3 grand prize winners, and $1 million will be split among runners-up."

There is also some waffle about the application needing to achieve societal beneficial goals. Can you imagine if the Shor algorithm had been submitted to the prize:

And what societal benefits does your algorithm create?

Well it could be use to factor large numbers which are at the heart of modern cryptography and hence allow us to read all encrypted traffic.

Is this a societal good? Not so much when phrased as "we just sunk all e-commerce."

Currently even the Shor algorithm isn't as much a killer app as it once was as anyone in the know has moved on to non-quantum crackable codes. Even the threat of a quantum computer is enough to change the landscape of cryptography. Today implementing Shor simply means we can read old encrypted messages.

At the moment there is still no clear signal that quantum computers have a quantum advantage that is worth having.

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More Information

https://www.xprize.org/prizes/qc-apps

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 17 March 2024 )