Ewin Tang, an 18-year-old with a degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Texas Austin, has proven that regular computers can solve recommendation problems just as quickly as quantum computers. The finding is significant because quantum computing was thought to be exponentially faster than traditional computers at the kinds of processing required by the recommendation engines used by companies like Amazon and Netflix.
Initially, Tang’s senior thesis project was meant to prove that no fast classical recommendation algorithm existed, and thus that the speed improvements offered by quantum computing were real. Instead, he found a classical algorithm that eliminated the speed gains offered by quantum computing.
“This was one of the most definitive examples of a quantum speedup, and it’s no longer there,” said Tang.