Doubts over Google’s ‘quantum supremacy’ claim

Scientists at the World Laureates Forum expressed doubts about the “quantum supremacy” claim made by Google and if its quantum computer was really a quantum computer.

In a scientific paper last week, Google made a claim that it has achieved “quantum supremacy,” an experimental demonstration of the superiority of a quantum computer over a traditional one.

“There is very strong competition in the field of quantum computing,” said Serge Haroche, a 2012 Nobel Prize winner in physics.

“One difficulty is decoherence. In fact the quantum system is very fragile and the quantum superposition is easily destroyed. So for a real quantum computer to work, you have to make quantum error corrections, to be able to detect all the errors and to correct the errors. For the time being nobody knows how to implement effective error corrections,” Haroche said.

He believes that what the Google machine and all related machines are doing is trying to do computation with a limited number of particles without quantum error correction.

It’s very interesting but is not quantum computer, Haroche described Google’s quantum computer.

Classic computers store 1 or 0 in a “bit,” while a quantum computer uses qubit (quantum bit) to store a combination of 1s and 0s. One qubit holds two values, two qubits four, three qubits eight. Thus its computing power is exponentially greater than that of “bits.”

Companies and innovators are now working on possible applications, such as quantum GPS or quantum solutions to overcrowded subway stations.

It is not the time to celebrate or to say it had be done by quantum computing, he said.

Top scientists share their biggest concerns

The third day of World Laureates Forum, attended by more than 40 Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, was entirely devoted to Mobius forums, where each scientist was given only three minutes to discuss what they are most concerned about.

The topics they submitted to organizers included: Can we cure Alzheimer’s? Can we live forever? Is there life on other planets? Will climate change destroy all of us? Can we become superhuman through gene-editing?

The forum started with a special 15-minute presentation by 2019 Nobel physics laureate Didier Queloz, who explained how Earth is uniquely organized compared with millions of other planets, posing challenges when looking for a similar one habitable for lifeforms like those on Earth. He went on to list the elements needed for such life to exist, leading to the observation: “If you look for life like on Earth, you are not going to find it.”

But rather than discouraging others from seeking aliens, he told Shanghai Daily that his presentation was intended to illustrate that we need to be more imaginative, and change the conditions of physics and chemistry research, and then we may yet find extraterrestrial life.

He also noted that traveling to another planet is still a dream — not to mention living there.

“Go to South Pole and try to live there for a while! Then you will see,” he said.

Top scientists share their biggest concerns

Yao Minji / SHINE

2019 Nobel physics laureate Didier Queloz gave a speical presentation about life on other planets.

As the Mobius discussions started, three laureates, one by one, discussed challenges for scientists, especially young ones today.

They called for patience, cooperation and more funding into basic science research.

Randy Schekman, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2013, pointed out the false standards of “impact factors” which are used by commercial scientific journals to evaluate scientists’ research papers and results.

“Professional editors who used to be scientists judge the impact of science research well beyond their expertise, and do it very often. They rely on the perceived buzz or impact in the world. The distortion is pervasive.”

Michael Rosbash, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017, followed with his worries about cooperation versus competition in science research.

With a brief introduction of how scientists helped diffuse nuclear tensions between states, he called for more cooperation rather than competition.

“Scientists have played and must continue to play such roles,” he said.

“Disease has no boarders. However, money has, and it’s not only between countries, but even within a single country.”

He also called for patience from governments and those who invest in science research.

“All great cultural and research institutions in the world are very old, because it takes a long time to get results,” he said. “A measure of patience must be exercised to built such institutions.”

Yoshinori Oshumi, 2016 Nobel medicine laureate, reiterated the point of patience with his own example. It took 30 years before autophagy, his field, became popular with the identification of essential genes.

“Now the young generation tends to focus on application oriented science, so the number of graduate students is rapidly decreasing, which will cause difficulty in science in the near future,” he also explained.

Top scientists share their biggest concerns

Yao Minji / SHINE

Inspired by Mobius Strip, the brainstorming forum asks each scientist to talk about what they concern the most for three minutes.

Nobel winner encourages young scientists to follow passions

Young scientists should always follow their hearts when doing research, even if their goals seem to go awry from the perspective of their mentors, said Gregg Semenza, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year.

Semenza, together with William Kaelin Jr and Sir Peter Ratcliffe, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine this year “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

Semenza said when he was young, he went astray from what his mentors were doing in the lab. But instead of asking him to focus on the laboratory, they encouraged Semenza to explore more in his own field.

“It was very generous of my mentors to give me that freedom not to work on their project, but to start a new project,” Semenza told Shanghai Daily.

When Shanghai Daily asked him whether he would allow his students to pursue something outside his research, Semenza laughed and said there hasn’t yet been such a test case, but he hoped he has the same generosity of his mentors.

Semenza said it is not easy for young scientists to establish their academic careers nowadays, especially when it comes to applying for funding.

“It is extremely difficult for young scientists,” he said. “They are trying to establish their own labs and they have to train people to do the work in the lab.”

Yet often at universities, Semenza pointed out that young scientists are given unpleasant tasks that no one else wants to do.

“It is an issue and the writing of the grants, unfortunately, remains an issue too,” Semenza said.

But he also sees a silver lining. Semenza said it’s very useful for young people to network with established scientists during such occasions as the WLA Forum.

“In my early career I had the opportunity to do that,” Semenza recalled. “Some of those people become strong supporters of my work as I went forward.”

Semenza also said he will continue working with Chinese scientists in the future, for many of his former trainees are now working in Chinese universities. Before he came to the forum, Semenza stopped at Guangzhou to visit his former pupil Gao Ping, who is now a professor at the South China University of Technology.

“I gave a lecture there and the students were very excited,” said Semenza. “It was my first lecture since receiving the Nobel Prize.”

Semenza told Shanghai Daily that many students in his lab are from China now as well.

“I have many relationships and friends here in China,” Semenza said. “So, it’s natural to work together with them.”

Nobel laureates make claim for science without borders

Four Nobel Laureates said that science had no boundaries and called for more global collaboration at the WLA Forum in Lingang new year on Wednesday.

William Kaelin Jr and Gregg Semenza, Nobel Prize winners in medicine, and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, Nobel laureates in physics, sat down together to trace the roots of their inspirations for doing the academic research. Kaelin and Semenza focused on one of the smallest properties possible in the universe while Mayor and Queloz looked up into the vast scope of infinity.

Mayor said he was working with scientists from China over 30 years ago before he and Queloz, who was his Ph.D. student, discovered 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet orbiting a sun-like star, 51 Pegasi.

“At that time scientists from Russia, China, and South America were all working together,” said Mayor. “Science doesn’t belong to one country.”

Queloz said the ideal world for science would be one where scientists can set up international cooperation without restrictions.

“Scientists should be able to travel, to have access to documentation,” he said. “It is the only way to mobilize all the brains and ensure progress.”

Samenza added that scientists should have the freedom to challenge the well-established norms so that they can make real breakthroughs. A cultivation system encourages creative thinking that can be vital for a youth seeking a career in academics.

Kaelin argued that scientists should be citizens of the world. It was a topic that all scientists had been talking about at the forum. He said the world has seen unprecedented investment in science by China, so his expectations were high that China will continue to be a leader in science.

But he also sounded a cautionary note, saying people who invest in science should never overlook the fundamental researches. Some investors may be looking only at short-term returns.

“Many countries are tempted to tie their science investment to the so-called ‘deliverables,’” Kaelin argued. “Investing fundamental science with applied science is the only way forward.”

Steven Chu, former United States Secretary of Energy and the winner of Nobel Prize in physics, expressed concern about the rise in populism in some countries, including the United States, on building borders to prevent immigrants and students from studying overseas.

“It was always a great advantage to the United States that we had such outstanding students from all over the world,” said Chu, himself a child of immigrants.

Chu said he hoped it was only a temporary factor and that it would pass away soon.

“I hope things will return to normalcy with open borders and sharing ideas,” said Chu. “Students all over the world, and us, all benefit from it.”

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