Google reaches supremacy

Remember where you were. Google just did the computing equivalent of splitting the atom. It reached quantum supremacy.  

Actually, it hit it last week, as I was fighting through a terrible bout of the flu (caught it off my son).

It was a strange week to be out of action. First Parliament was un-prorogued, then Donald Trump finally started his impeachment dance of death, then Google revealed it has built the fastest computer in human history.

Which of those developments will matter most over the long term? The bread and circus theatre served up by the political world – or another paradigm shift in processing power speeds?

You can probably guess what I think.

If you’re wondering what on earth quantum supremacy is, let me close that loop for you. I wrote about this not two months ago in this very newsletter – on 14 August. I also made a prediction that turned out to be spot on:

Remember this term: quantum supremacy. It’s a major milestone/challenge to be overcome by quantum computing. Quite simply it involves a quantum computer solving a problem the world’s most powerful conventional supercomputer cannot. 

A race. An arm wrestle. A head to head. Call it what you want. It’s the point at which we could confidently say a quantum computer has surpassed the best a ‘regular’ supercomputer can do.  

In the ‘milestones for incredible new technology to reach’ stakes, it’s up there with Turing’s Imitation Game (a challenge artificial intelligence must overcome in order to be considered truly ‘human-like’).    

And we haven’t reached it yet. But as I showed you yesterday, we may well be getting closer. I could be writing to you about quantum supremacy again before too long. Oh, go on then. It’s wild prediction time. I think we’re going to get there soon. Before the year is out. Let’s see if I’m right.

Turns out, I was right. In fact, we hit quantum supremacy even faster than I thought. I predicted it’d take the rest of the year. In reality it took just six weeks.

Serves me right. When you’re dealing with exponential trends, things always move quicker than you expect. That’s the whole point of these letters: to put you ahead of the exponential growth curve.

Back to Google. The quantum supremacy test involved getting a quantum computer to solve a random data set. Not a particularly practical test, but handy enough when judging raw computing power. The engineers who ran the test reckon it would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

The quantum computer took just over three minutes.

That is a radical leap forward. There’s no other way of putting it. That’s why I opened this letter by comparing it to the splitting of the atom.

So what happens next?

Right now – nothing. We wait. There’s still a long way to go until quantum computers start delivering practical value and solving real problems.   

But that doesn’t mean you should do nothing. Two things I’d point out:

  • Quantum computing is advancing at a much faster pace than people first thought. If that continues we’ll see it hit commercial/practical viability much earlier than you’d expect.
  • Those commercial and practical applications will change the world. You need only look how the changes wrought by traditional computing to understand that.

With that in mind, there is likely to come a point in the future when you look back on times like today and think, “I wish I’d put a little money into that one.” We’re seeing the early signs of emerging potential right now. Which means right now is the time to learn everything you can about it and position your money – if you can.

To start, check out my two essays on the subject back in August, here and here. And of course, you can always have your say on the subject nick@southbankresearch.com.

Tomorrow: why a German-born analyst says it’s time to buy Britain, especially if there’s a hard Brexit…

Until then…

Nick O’Connor
Publisher, Exponential Investor  

Category: Artificial Intelligence

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