A reality check for quantum computing's progress
One of the pioneers of quantum computing warns that industry hype is getting ahead of actual performance.
Why it matters: Quantum holds the promise of revolutionizing computing. But there are still enormous hardware and software challenges that need to be overcome.
Driving the news: Last week the Association of Computing Machinery awarded its $250,000 ACM Prize to Scott Aaronson, a professor at the University of Texas, for his "groundbreaking contributions to quantum computing."
- Aaronson helped develop the concept of quantum supremacy, a technical milestone that can only be achieved when a quantum device proves capable of solving a problem that no classical computer could solve in a reasonable amount of time.
Yes, but: Despite his technical bona fides — or perhaps because of them — Aaronson expressed skepticism about how far the quantum computing industry has come so far when it comes to achieving what it advertises.
- "What's happened over the last decade is that there have been a tremendous number of claims about the more immediate things you can do with a quantum computer, like solve all these machine learning problems," says Aaronson.
- "But these claims are about 90% bullsh*t."
Details: Aaronson argues that much of what quantum computing companies are doing can still be done as well or better on the best classical computers — which is precisely what happened after Google claimed quantum supremacy on a problem in 2019.
- To Aaronson, quantum computing has yet to reach the transistor level — the equivalent of the second-generation of classical computers, which entered use in the mid-1950s.
- "We are barely into the equivalent of vacuum tubes," he says.
The bottom line: Aaronson is still bullish on the long-term future of quantum computing hardware, which has seen "unbelievable progress over the last 20–25 years."
- But to get further, he says, "you're going to need some revolutionary new development."