Google's 2021 Year in Review lays out hopes for practical quantum computing this decade

In its 2021 retrospective, Google details its quantum computing priorities, proposed applications for the technology, and future investments in the quantum ecosystem.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on

Despite its massive promise, quantum computing is still often seen as a highly-experimental area of tech development that may or may not go anywhere. While Google admits the science behind these almost science-fictional computers has a long way to go, its latest review of its ongoing plans shows a company hoping to turn quantum computing from a nebulous series of promises into a concrete, practical tool in humanity's technology arsenal. 

Despite being a retrospective, the main focus of Google's 2021 Year in Review: Google Quantum AI release is the future of the technology. Yes, the company does go over the progress it made during the year in its efforts to build error-free qubits and more practical hardware, but it quickly moves onto its dreams for the still-young 2020s. This long-term commitment, Google said, is focused on three key areas: 

  • Bringing quantum computing processor technology to the point where it can outperform not only classic computers, but also classic supercomputers. 
  • Developing a reliable method of error correction for the quantum noise that currently plagues efforts to turn the technology into a practical tool. 
  • And building a logical qubit that maintains its error-free state for "an arbitrarily long time" to aid in the aforementioned path toward practicality.

The company would like to accomplish all of these things before the calendar rolls around to 2030. Should it attain its goals, Google believes quantum computers could revolutionize multiple areas of technological development. Chief among them is the study of physical systems. The search giant noted in its release that indications of a collaborative study it conducted alongside Caltech show quantum computers can make determinations about physical systems using "exponentially fewer experiments than what is conventionally required." Google also saw similar results when testing the technology's usefulness for chemical engineering purposes alongside Columbia University. 

More far-flung applications also include studying the physical oddities of time crystals, calculating statistics for entanglement entropy, and other things that would sound right at home coming out of a Starfleet engineer's mouth. 

To help these efforts along, Google reiterated its financial commitment to quantum development, noting it expects to continue expanding its Quantum AI facilities in Santa Barbara, California while also distributing its open-source Cirq quantum computing platform. Other future development plans also include the release of a new Fermionic Quantum Simulator that takes "advantage of the symmetry in quantum chemistry problems to provide efficient simulations," and an update to the qsim tool that allows for the simulation of noisy quantum processors using off-the-shelf GPUs. 

Hopefully, Google's efforts won't be derailed by those pesky cosmic rays.

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