The race for quantum supremacy continues
Until recently, quantum computing was largely theoretical. Today, the use of quantum physics to increase computational power has moved beyond speculation. While fully fledged quantum computers are yet to exist, quantum developers and researchers are edging towards realising this ambitious – but achievable – goal. Interest and investment is fuelling the charge, with a projected global market of over $10bn by 2024. So, what major milestones have been reached, and how will they influence the field?
1) Google’s super fast Sycamore
This October, Google announced that Sycamore, its 54 qubit processor, had carried out a calculation that would take the world’s fastest super computer 10,000 years. Not only did Sycamore complete the calculation – it did it in 200 seconds. The results were published in science journal Nature and represent a significant shift from theory to practice.
At the moment, computing organisations are striving for quantum supremacy. Google has certainly staked a strong claim to the title, starting new conversations around quantum. Sycamore’s success could lead to a revolution in materials science, and could bring about the high performing processors necessary for technological advances in every industry.
2) China’s cutting edge quantum cryptography
As technology companies battle it out on the quantum stage, national governments have also committed themselves to quantum growth. China’s groundbreaking quantum satellite, named after the ancient Chinese philosopher and scientist Mozi, was launched in 2016 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
In 2017, the satellite successfully teleported the first object – a single photon – from Earth to orbit. Last year, Mozi showcased the first intercontinental quantum cryptography service, enabling a quantum secured video conference between Europe and China. The service relies on random numerical keys to encode and decode messages. In a world where quantum computers can crack existing cryptography, quantum security measures are crucial.
3) Quantum Key Distribution and blockchain
Key distribution is a fundamental part of effective cryptography. It protects confidential information sent via telecommunications networks, making it difficult for hackers to infiltrate the exchange.
One mathematically unbreakable method is to use a random numerical key called a one time pad. The main challenge is sharing the keys securely between parties. Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) uses quantum properties to exchange and encrypt sensitive information. This November, global software company HashCash Consultants announced a combination of QKD with blockchain technology, heralding an age of highly secure, quantum encryption.
4) Stepping towards quantum superposition
Superposition is a hallmark theory of quantum interference, which refers to putting quantum states together to create a new quantum state. This means that answers to computational challenges can be found much more quickly than traditional computers.
In September 2019, a collaboration between the University of Vienna and the University of Basel successfully brought complex molecules into a quantum superposition. The molecules were made up of approximately 2,000 atoms. The point of the experiment was to explore the transition of quantum effects into the ‘classical’, or non-quantum, world.
By bringing molecules into a quantum superposition, the team demonstrated that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. Tech startups like Quantum Computing Inc. are also pursuing superposition to solve complex problems in biology, medicine, and energy.
5) D-Wave’s quantum advantage
IBM, Google, and their quantum competitors are racing to build the most effective universal gate quantum computers. Universal gate relies on building reliable qubits for quantum circuit operations that can run complex algorithms.
Another approach is quantum annealing, which works to find the best solution from multiple outcomes. Annealers represent a stepping stone to pure quantum computing that finds the best answers using the power available today.
‘Advantage’ is the third upgrade to D-Wave’s pioneering quantum annealer and is powered by 5,000 qubits – a serious improvement on the previous 2,000 qubit model. Los Alamos National Laboratory plans to use the annealer to support national security efforts when it is launched next year.
On course for quantum
Major companies, startups, research teams and governments are all creeping towards quantum… Arguably, it’s the implications of the technology that are most important, not the coveted title of quantum supremacy.
Quantum computing will transform R&D in every possible field, providing the power needed to solve previously unanswerable questions. As we enter the age of quantum computing, education and understanding will dictate engagement and investment. Now, quantum enthusiasts must communicate the tangible benefits of quantum rather than fuelling hype.
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