Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In a paper today, a trio of scientists claim the first proof that quantum computers can outstrip conventional technology.

Why it matters: In the belief that quantum computing will become a massive, strategic industry, private companies and investors, along with the U.S. and foreign governments, have spent billions of dollars on research into the field. But until today, it wasn’t certain that the technology would be faster than supercomputers we can build now.

Details: The authors of the theoretical proof, published today in Science, showed that quantum computers can solve some problems faster than conventional machines.

  • A classical computer — the field’s word for the computers we use today — would need to be impossibly powerful to solve these increasingly difficult problems.
  • Until now, the biggest hint of a quantum advantage has been that for some problems, the best quantum algorithms that have been discovered are faster than the best classical algorithms discovered so far.
  • That was a pretty big hint, but not proof.

"Our result shows that quantum information processing really does provide benefits — without having to rely on unproven complexity-theoretic conjectures," said Robert König, a co-author of the paper, in a statement from the Technical University of Munich, where he teaches. The other authors are IBM’s Sergey Bravyi and David Gosset.

  • Current quantum computers are not yet capable of advanced computation. They likely won’t surpass the power of classical computers for years or even decades.

The stakes: The quantum advantage proven today is exactly the kind of edge that the U.S. and China are competing for in order to supercharge their economies and militaries.

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