Quantum computer: An utopia becoming a strategic matter
Updated: Jun 16
Quantum computer has been considered as utopia for a long time. Now the game has changed and this technology is becoming a major strategic matter. Industry is getting involved and funding are increasing.
What is quantum computing?
Classical computing is based on bits, which can take the value of 0 or 1. A quantum computer works with qubits (quantum bits) having an infinity of values between 0 and 1 that can overlap, offering a much higher calculation power. This feature is directly linked to one of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, which describes that a system can be in a coherent superposition of states corresponding to the potentiality of all its possible states.
In 1981, Richard Feynman exposed this idea: "How can we simulate quantum physics? Can we do this with a new type of computer - a quantum computer?". But it was not until the 1990s that theoretical physicists proved the advantages of a quantum computer. Umesh Vazirani and Ethan Bernstein from University of California - Berkley (UC Berkeley) showed that it could solve problems (in this case knowing a function from numerical tests) much faster than classical computing. Peter Shor will later build a quantum algorithm capable of factoring prime numbers very quickly, which is impossible for a conventional computer.
In the years 2000s, first prototypes start to appear. IBM presented its first quantum computer prototype equipped with 2 qubits in 1998. Nearly 20 years later, the Eagle chip, also produced by IBM, owns 127 qubits. Associations between start-ups and large groups are flourishing. The biggest names in the industry are getting into it, i.e., Intel, Microsoft, Huawei, Google, Amazon, Alibaba. Number of patents on the subject rose from 117 in 2018 to 284 in 2020 according to the American agency Young Basile. Now governments invest massively in this area, with the aim of acquiring a strategic and competitive advantage. Early 2021, Emmanuel Macron presented an investment plan of 1.8 billion euros over 5 years in quantum technologies. Start-ups are also flourishing and raising millions. In France, the successful start-up PASQAL, raised 25 million euros in June 2021 and merged with Dutch company Qu&Co in order to become the European leader in the sector.
Quantum computing finds many applications.
Pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated advantages in the simulation of interactions between molecules, enabling to accelerate drug design.
Another possible application for the quantum computer is molecular modelling. Indeed, the ability of quantum computers to focus on the existence of 1 and 0 simultaneously could allow even the most complex molecules to be successfully mapped.
Thank to the ultra-high precision offered by the quantum computer technology, it can be helpful in insuring trusted and reliable weather forecast. This is of great importance or many sectors such as agriculture, farming/breeding, transport and energy production.
Also the quantum computer could reduce learning times and processing times for many applications of artificial intelligence, but also improve reasoning and understanding.
Also quantum computers can be used in logistics to offer a better data analysis and a robust modelling to optimize the planning of the workflows associated with managing companies' supply chain
Quantum computer is also be of great benefice for cryptography, cybersecurity, and finance.
Cybersecurity at stakes
As described by Shor's algorithm, one of the advantages of the quantum computer is its ability to factorize into prime numbers, an operation which is complicated for classical computing. This turns out to be a major cybersecurity issue since modern cryptography is also based on factorization. Hence, states and defense organizations are insisting on and working for remaining competitive on the subject. The NIST (American federal certification body) even launched an international competition in 2016 with the aim of building new algorithms that can withstand the arrival of the quantum computer.
The quantum computer does not exist yet, but the whole world is preparing for it.
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