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2019 AI Hype Countdown #3: Quantum Supremacy? Less Supreme Than It Sounded

It’s possible that Google’s result can be generalized to more useful scenarios than the test case though it isn't immediately obvious how

In October, while Google was announcing some breakthroughs in quantum computing, it startled observers by claiming “quantum supremacy.” While the firm made real advances, the quantum supremacy part, closely examined, is hype.

Quantum supremacy does not mean just doing things faster on a quantum computer. It means performing tasks that would not be attempted on a classical computer. For example, Google claimed that its algorithm, which took 200 seconds to perform on a quantum computer, would have taken 10,000 years on a classical computer (the kind you and I use).

There are several problems with with this claim of quantum supremacy.

First the comparison is faulty. IBM published a response soon after that showed that the algorithm does not take 10,000 years on a classical computer, but instead can be done in two and a half days. While Google’s quantum computer is certainly much faster, the feat hardly invites the term “supremacy.”

Another question is whether or not this result can be generalized. The task itself was a very specialized academic problem, specifically geared towards quantum computation. Can this result be built on for future problems or does it simply represent the fact that doing something is naturally faster than modeling it.

For instance, if you want to know what the splatter of dropping pudding on the floor will look like, actually dropping the pudding is faster than creating a physics model of the same activity. The quantum problem statement was very similar to this “pudding problem” because the problem to be solved was simply asking what the quantum samples will look like. It’s possible that this sort of result can be generalized to more useful scenarios, though it isn’t immediately obvious how.

What Google really achieved was increased stability in its quantum computing platform—keeping qubits stable has been a hard problem in quantum computing for a long time. That was certainly a step forward, but advertising it as “quantum supremacy” was certainly a classic exercise in hype.

See also: Quantum supremacy isn’t the big fix anyway (Eric Holloway) If human thought is a halting oracle, then even quantum computing will not allow us to replicate human intelligence.

Counting back:

2019 AI Hype Countdown #4: Investment: AI beats the hot stock tip… barely At the end of the day, AI-based investing actually performed like a bad index fund. Artificial intelligence may do well summarizing data, but the new insights that will lead the economy forward cannot be gleaned that way. What we need is not old data but new truths.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #5: Transhumanism never grows old. Jonathan Bartlett: The idea that we can upload our brains to computers to avoid death shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between types of thinking. Computers are very effective but they operate with a very limited set of causal abilities. Humans work from an entirely different set of causal abilities. Uploading your brain to a computer is not a question of technology. It can’t work in principle.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #6: In May of this year, The Scientist ran a series of pieces suggesting that we could automate the process of acquiring scientific knowledge. In reality, without appropriate human supervision, AI is just as likely to find false or unimportant patterns as real ones. Additionally, the overuse of AI in science is actually leading to a reproducibility crisis.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #7: “Robot rights” grabs the mike. If we could make intelligent and sentient AIs, wouldn’t that mean we would have to stop programming them? AI programs are just that programs. Nothing in such a program could make it conscious. We may as well think that if we make sci-fi life-like enough, we should start worrying about Darth Vader really taking over the galaxy.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #8: Media started doing their job! Yes, this year, there has been a reassuring trend: Media are offering more critical assessment of off-the-wall AI hype. One factor in the growing sobriety may be that, as AI technology transitions from dreams to reality, the future belongs to leaders who are pragmatic about its abilities and limitations.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #9: Hype fought the law and Autonomy had real software but the hype around Big Data had discouraged Hewlett Packard from taking a closer look. Autonomy CFO Sushovan Hussain was sentenced this year to a five year prison term and a ten million dollar fine because he was held “ultimately responsible for Autonomy’s revenues having been overinflated by $193m between 2009 and the first half of fiscal 2011.”

2019 AI Hype Countdown #10: Sophia the Robot Still Gives “Interviews” In other news, few popular media ask critical questions. As a humanoid robot, Sophia certainly represents some impressive engineering. It is sad that the engineering fronts ridiculous claims about the state of AI, using partially scripted interactions as if they were real communication.


Top Ten AI hypes of 2018

Jonathan Bartlett

Senior Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Jonathan Bartlett is a senior software engineer at McElroy Manufacturing. Jonathan is part of McElroy's Digital Products group, where he writes software for their next generation of tablet-controlled machines as well as develops mobile applications for customers to better manage their equipment and jobs. He also offers his time as the Director of The Blyth Institute, focusing on the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, engineering, and science. Jonathan is the author of several textbooks and edited volumes which have been used by universities as diverse as Princeton and DeVry.

2019 AI Hype Countdown #3: Quantum Supremacy? Less Supreme Than It Sounded