Two recent breakthroughs in quantum computing have generated significant excitement in the field. By using quantum computers to solve problems that classical computers could not, researchers in the United States and China have separately ushered in the era of “quantum advantage.” Yet as momentous as the demonstration of quantum advantage may be, it is the availability of more capable quantum machines that will ultimately have greater impact. Access to these machines will foster a cohort of “quantum natives” capable of solving real-world problems with quantum computers.
Both recent breakthroughs—random circuit sampling by Google in 2019 and boson sampling by the University of Science and Technology of China in 2020—are problems useful for demonstrating quantum advantage. But they do not have real-world utility and are akin to esoteric Plinko games. Neither demonstration brings us closer to identifying any near-term application for quantum computers that will drive technology development and demonstrate impact.
Although quantum computing is in its infancy, the field is already seeing significant commercial investment. The history of classical computing suggests that if this commercial activity is to continue, it is absolutely vital to identify real-world applications for near-term quantum machines, applications with real advantage over classical approaches. Doing so requires us to make quantum computing available much more widely. Fortunately, what we are also witnessing is the emergence of quantum machines sufficiently capable of engaging a broader cohort of the public—and it is this public availability that will maximize our ability to identify truly useful applications.
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