2018 preview: Quantum computers to overtake ordinary machines

The quantum computing era is upon us. Google is building up to a breakthrough on par with the launch of Sputnik or the splitting of the atom

If all goes to plan in 2018, Google will unveil a device capable of performing calculations that no other computer on the planet can tackle. The quantum computing era is upon us.

Well, sort of. Google is set to achieve quantum supremacy, the long-awaited first demonstration of quantum computers’ ability to outperform ordinary machines at certain tasks. Regular computing bits can be in one of two states: 0 or 1. Their quantum cousins, qubits, get a performance boost by storing a mixture of both states at the same time.

Google’s planned device has just 49 qubits – hardly enough to threaten the world’s high-speed supercomputers. But the tech giant has stacked the deck heavily in its favour, choosing to attack a problem involving simulating the behaviour of random quantum objects – a significant home advantage for a quantum machine.

This task is useless. Solving it won’t build better AI,