The Future Role of Quantum Supremacy: Insights from 2020 ACM Award Winner, Dr. Scott Aaronson

17 May 2021

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Dr. Scott Aaronson, computer science professor at The University of Texas at Austin and SIT Board Member, was recently awarded the 2020 ACM for his far-reaching theoretical, technical and educational contributions in quantum computing. His extensive background in the field and recent groundbreaking contributions have shaped his expertise in not only the research development of quantum technology but the application of it in the future of business.

In a recent interview with SIT, Dr. Aaronson shed insight on how the concept of quantum supremacy will play a role in future trends of quantum computing for businesses, higher education and progressive quantum research and theory as a whole. 

When asked how the concept of quantum supremacy might play a role in quantum computing in business development, Dr. Aaronson paralleled quantum supremacy with that of the Wright Brothers’ airplane or Enrico Fermi’s nuclear chain reaction saying, “it doesn’t have to be directly useful, it just has to prove a point.” He goes on to clarify that

“‘quantum supremacy’ means the milestone that’s reached when programmable quantum computers are first able to outperform existing classical computers, running any currently-known algorithm, on some contrived benchmark problem,” adding that “many people think quantum supremacy means that huge quantum speedups for commercially relevant problems are right around the corner.  Alas, it probably doesn’t mean that, as much as people trying to sell things have encouraged that misperception.”

The clarification of breaking new boundaries and reaching new milestones will inevitably affect how businesses develop when talking about quantum computing, despite not at a commercially-applicable scale. He does however see how quantum computing is being leveraged in other sectors, like that of online education, as seen with the transformative digital ecosystem of SIT Alemira. Dr. Aaronson discusses how

“for over 20 years, the field of quantum computing has been fortunate to have a superb selection of online lecture notes, survey articles, textbooks, and now video lectures and online courses,” adding that, “naturally, issues around the recent quantum supremacy experiments, such as Google’s and USTC’s, have been and are being incorporated into many of these materials.” 

But when it comes to applying quantum supremacy to the more theoretical areas he argues that “the theoretical work that I and others did around quantum supremacy has already had a modest impact on computational complexity theory—mostly by raising new questions, especially around the hardness of approximate average-case counting problems.” Dr. Aaronson attributes these new questions as the reason for experimenting with quantum supremacy, which has ultimately “inspired some physicists to think more about the statistical properties of random quantum circuits, as they relate to tensor networks, condensed matter, and even string theory and AdS/CFT.” Regardless of increases research and experimentation, much remains to be discovered, particularly when it comes to understanding the benefits quantum supremacy can and will contribute to future developments in research, education and business models. 

Dr. Aaronson highlights large scale quantum computing as the “next big milestone for quantum computing” noting how “scalable, fault-tolerant quantum computer would have a bunch of impacts.” He believes “the most direct [impact] would be on physics, chemistry, materials science, and of course cryptography. Online education would undoubtedly be affected too.” To this final point he highlights the advancements of SIT, of which he is a board member, noting its progressive success as an early startup saying, “I’m proud to be on SIT’s advisory board, I wish it success, and I’ll look for opportunities to interact in the future, as SIT ramps up its quantum computing and information offerings.”

The increasing impact that quantum computing, and furthermore the role the concept of quantum supremacy will have on the future on physics, businesses and education are imminent. No matter if just ‘proving a point’ or not, Dr. Aaronson’s contributions to the research behind quantum computing is paving the way for new ways of has helped guide the development of this new field. Moreover, his work goes beyond quantum computation, significant impacting areas such as computational complexity theory and physics.

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