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Google’s  $5 Million Competition Invites Global Innovators to Unlock Quantum Computing’s Potential

Published March 8, 2024 5:07 PM
James Morales
Published March 8, 2024 5:07 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Google has put up $5 million in prize money for projects that are researching real-world quantum computer use cases.
  • The competition invites researchers who are working on potential applications of future quantum computers.
  • To date, breakthroughs in the field have occurred in the realm of abstract mathematics.

Google has been researching quantum computing for years, but its latest competition  acknowledges that the technology’s biggest advances so far have been mostly abstract.

In collaboration with XPRIZE and the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), Google has put up $5 million of prize money for researchers using apply quantum computing to solve real-world challenges.

Lofty Quantum Claims Address Problems that Don’t Exist

What do traversable wormhole simulations, the toric code, and a Hartree–Fock approximation have in common?

The answer is that all of them have been used to demonstrate Google’s supposed quantum supremacy but mean nothing to anyone without an advanced degree in physics.  

Over the years, Google’s quantum researchers have made countless breakthroughs. But because they are always cloaked in arcane mathematical abstractions, it’s often hard to discern why they matter. 

Quantum processors certainly promise to deliver computing power orders of magnitude greater than conventional semiconductors.

“However, most quantum algorithms have been studied primarily in the context of abstract mathematical problems,” Google acknowledged this week. “Less work has gone into assessing those algorithms for specific, real-world use cases.”

Using Quantum Computers to Address Societal Challenges

The latest competition is open to researchers working on “socially beneficial applications” of quantum technology. Specifically, Google highlighted use cases that could help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Applicants won’t be required to demonstrate functional products that work straight out of the box. The firm expects entrants to mostly focus on potential use cases for hardware that doesn’t exist yet.

Google’s Long-Term Quantum Vision

With the development of true error-free quantum computers potentially still decades away, prize money will be awarded to research that addresses near-term applications for what are known as Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) processors. 

A kind of halfway-house quantum chip, the first NISQ processors could become generally available within the next few years.

However, the competition is also open to studies oriented toward the large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computers that are expected to be developed further down the line.

As Google explained:

“While we believe there are useful applications to be discovered in the NISQ era, most of quantum computing’s impact will come once we’ve built large-scale quantum computers — and we can identify those applications now, so we have them ready to deploy as we build more capable hardware.”

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