We should avoid quantum computing hype – but that doesn’t mean that we should overlook its profound potential

While staying cautious over the claims about these computers, it’s important to focus on how these advances can change the world, writes Andrew Griffin

Wednesday 23 October 2019 20:36
An illustration of Google’s Sycamore processor
An illustration of Google’s Sycamore processor

Ironically, conversations about quantum computing tend to be conducted in one of two states. They are either carried out in frenzied excitement or include weary debunking. Sometimes they flicker between the two. The radical promise of quantum computing is real, but the caution is a perfect antidote to the hype – and we would do best to bear both in mind.

That means there is also an edge of caution to announcements like this week’s, that Google says it has achieved “quantum supremacy” and developed a quantum computer able to do things a classical computer cannot. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious. There’s a worrying amount of cash riding on these breakthroughs, which are jazzed up in press releases and marketing in a way that traditional research organisations normally avoid; everyone wants to be first to make these claims; they are difficult to understand and even harder to actually test, meaning that people can make exaggerated claims more easily.

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