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Quantum Computing in 2022

Quantum Computing in 2022

13 September 2022

Sonya Weiser

Quantum computing has been discussed and explored for many years. Is it getting close to a commercial reality?

Azure Quantum Week, Adelaide, September 2022

I attended day one of the Azure Quantum Week 2022 in Adelaide, a conference presented by the South Australian Department for Trade & Investment, The University of Adelaide, Microsoft, KPMG, Tata Consulting Services and the South Australian Chief Scientist.

The keynote speakers were:

  • Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist
  • Professor Caroline McMillen, Chief Scientist for South Australia
  • Michael Egan, Director - Quantum Technologies, KPMG Australia
  • Easwara Prasad, Innovation Consultant, Tata Group
  • Katie Scott, Azure Architect Manager & Azure Quantum Field Ambassador, Microsoft
  • Professor Nelson Tansu, Head, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, The University of Adelaide
  • Elaine Van Bergen, Principal Engineering Manager and Azure, Quantum Field Ambassador, Microsoft

The day concluded with a panel discussion, featuring:

  • Dr Mohammad Choucair FRACI FRSN GAICD CEO, Archer Materials Limited
  • George Robinson, Global Head of Corporate Development Quantum Brilliance
  • Michael (Mike) J. Biercuk, CEO and Founder, Q-CTRL
  • Mark Hodson, Software Engineering Director Regetti

What is quantum computing?

I have previously written about quantum computing in April 2020, in my blog post Quantum computing, the sci fi frontier of computing.

Quantum computing is based on qubits – short for quantum bits – instead of classical bits used in today’s computers. Classical bits can only have one certain value, represented as 0 or 1. They can only be processed bit by bit, one after the other. Qubits however can store and process several values in parallel in one step, due to their superposition, entanglement and interference properties, which I explained in my previous blog post.

Here’s a quick list showing the number of qubits vs the number of classical bits required for processing information:

2 qubits are equivalent to 512 bits
3 qubits are equivalent to 1024 bits
10 qubits are equivalent to 16 kilobytes
16 qubits are equivalent to 1 megabyte
20 qubits are equivalent to 17 megabytes
30 qubits are equivalent to 17 gigabytes
35 qubits are equivalent to 550 gigabytes
100 qubits are equivalent to more than all the atoms of planet earth, and
280 qubits are equivalent to more than all the atoms in the known universe.

Are we there yet?

The short answer is no, we’re not yet at a point where most businesses will get a good return on investment from quantum computing. We are years away from quantum computers that are available at a reasonable price and that will have the scale to be commercially viable.

Qubits are extremely unstable, due to the nature of quantum physics. Any tiny amount of interference knocks them out of position and the error rate rises, making the number of qubits irrelevant unless the error rate can be kept down.

One strategy to stabilise qubits is to cool them to ridiculously low temperatures, where movement of quantum particles slows down to a stable rate. This strategy has been trialled by IBM, with their beautiful cooling system in a chandelier-like structure.

Researchers are still trying to grapple with the materials and hardware that are needed to build a quantum computer. For example, the University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is exploring theories for quantum electronics which exploit the duality of matter, which can behave like waves or particles at the atomic level.

There’s no consensus yet amongst the scientific community about the best way to create stable qubits. There are many different options being researched and experiments are continuing into the most viable way of having multiple qubits working together at the scale we need to create commercially viable quantum computers.

What is needed?

What needs to happen to make quantum a commercial reality?

Quantum mechanics theory was first developed by researchers in the 1920s and we’ve still not found a way to consistently harness its potential. The World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes papers on emerging technologies each year, with quantum technologies coming in to their top 10 technologies over the last five years. In 2017 the WEF ranked quantum computing at 10, in 2018 ranked algorithms for quantum computers at 10 and in 2020 ranked quantum sensing technologies at 8.

The quantum industry is one of Australia’s most high-potential emerging sectors, which needs investment from government and large-scale industrial early adopters.

Countries around the world are investing in quantum technologies, with China investing more in quantum than all other countries combined.

The Australian government is investing in technology and a national quantum strategy is being formed as part of that investment, to meet the need for an actionable plan at scale. A national quantum advisory committee is being formed, which will include academics, investors and people from industry.

The Australian Quantum Alliance, part of the Tech Council of Australia, was recently formed to encourage understanding and adoption of quantum technology, to provide advice to Government, and to support the growth of the quantum industry in Australia by building partnerships with key international and local stakeholders.

Like all new technologies, quantum computing that’s available right now is expensive and experimental, being developed by early adopters, large-scale industry and government backed researchers. This has always been the case, for example the Enigma machine used to crack code during World War II (a simple computer) and the ARPANET created by the US government (pre-cursor to the internet), have developed and matured over the years into common technology that’s now used by everyone and taken for granted.

It is possible that the problems of creating reliable, stable quantum computers at scale will be solved within the next few years. Early adopters that are getting quantum ready now will have a huge commercial advantage over laggards that wait for everyone else to adopt new technologies before they dip their toes in the water.

Why does it matter?

We need to be aware of and plan for the seismic shift in the power of quantum computers that is on the horizon. Quantum computers using qubits at scale will enable amazing things to be done with computers that are almost beyond the imagination of today’s world of technology. Applications for quantum computing include anything where we need the ability to simulate nature, such as chemistry, materials, and deep learning artificial intelligence.

There are many technical and commercial problems that we’ve not been able to solve, because they’re too complex to be analysed using classical computers. As Richard Feynman said 41 years ago at an IBM/MIT joint conference, if we want to solve problems using simulations of natural processes, we’ll need to harness the potential of quantum computing.

Quantum sensing

Commonly used devices are already using quantum physics. GPS devices work by measuring the tiny time delays in signals from multiple satellites separated in space. Doing this requires very stable and very accurate time measurement: using atomic clocks (which often work using quantum physics) in the GPS satellites.

Quantum sensors turn the inherent weakness of quantum technology - its instability against the environment - into a strength. These devices are extremely sensitive to everything around them; for example, changes in gravity can be detected by lifting a device with quantum sensors by about a metre (gravity changes as you move away from the centre of the Earth).

Quantum sensing has great potential and distinct advantages over other technologies in:

  • Bioimaging, neural sensing and heart imaging
  • Spectroscopy, imaging of molecular structures such as proteins
  • Communication, signal receiving and amplification for radar communications, calibrating electrical standards to support 5G/6G
  • Navigation, providing high-accuracy GPS, assisting with navigation inside buildings and underground
  • Environmental monitoring, predicting volcanic disruption and measuring CO2 emissions
  • Infrastructure monitoring, measuring mechanical stability and detecting leaks
  • Geographical surveying, assisting with the location of oil and gas
  • Fundamental science, accessing high-energy physics beyond the standard model

Quantum computing

One particular advantage of quantum computing will be improvements in cyber security.

Quantum technology will enable development of robust internet infrastructure and new cryptography methods to protect our information and advance our cyber security measures. Researchers are leveraging the power of quantum to develop ultra-secure communication channels and global quantum networks. Quantum random number generators will be used to generate keys for security applications and cryptographic operations.

And on the flip side of this great potential, hackers will harness the power of quantum computers to decrypt our current security keys. As quantum computing matures, we need to stay one step ahead of bad actors to ensure we’re able to secure critical assets such as financial records, healthcare data and defence industry data.

Examples of uses for quantum computing more generally include:

  • Development of faster and more effective artificial intelligence
  • Development of new drugs and chemicals
  • Financial and risk modelling
  • Streamlining operations and manufacturing

There are many case studies that explore the advantages of quantum computing. The following were presented at the Azure Quantum conference:

  • Schedule optimisation – customer NASA-JPL.  Quantum algorithms have been used to optimise scheduling of timeslots for space agencies to communication with missions, for example Perseverance or Voyager, using the Deep Space Network of radio antennae. Runtime of schedule optimisation has reduced from about 2 hours to 16 minutes on Azure Quantum.
  • Risk management – customer Willis Towers Watson.  Quantum inspired algorithms are used to assist Willis Towers Watson with its work in risk management, financial services and services. Compute time has been reduced from minutes to seconds and insights are being gained into data that couldn’t be analysed before.
  • Data centre load balancing – customer Microsoft.  Quantum inspired algorithms are used to balance loads to optimise the capacity of Microsoft Azure data centres worldwide. This has reduced the number of ‘hot’ clusters by a factor of four and decreased the number of monthly support escalations by a factor of ten.
  • Optimise wind farm energy production – customer Qubit Engineering.  Wind farm layouts have been optimised to capture more available energy with the same physical wind farm assets. The improvements in performance translates to megawatts of energy which can power hundreds of additional households over the lifetime of a wind farm.
  • Material Design via Chemistry Simulations – customer OTI.  OTI Lumionics has developed a fast materials design approach, tailored to OLED and other electronic materials. OTI has been investigating quantum computing for its potential to help accelerate computational chemistry simulations of new materials.

How should we prepare for quantum?

There are three steps you can take today to prepare for quantum:

  1. Understand the most significant opportunities and risks in your industry arising from quantum technologies.
  2. Cultivate a team of quantum enthusiasts or encourage existing innovation and disruptive technology team members to investigate use cases for quantum.
  3. Invest in readying your data, systems and workflows for quantum acceleration.

Quantum simulators and small-scale quantum computers are available today, to start experimenting and developing quantum computing algorithms.

At the conference we learnt about Microsoft’s Azure Quantum software development kit (QDK) and quantum computing learning tools which are available online. Microsoft is of course just one provider in the race to win quantum customers. For example, IBM offers cloud-based access to its quantum computers, allowing you to learn, develop, and run programs with their quantum applications and systems.

You can develop quantum algorithms today at minimal cost, using quantum development tools available online, testing the algorithms using quantum simulators that run on classical computing hardware.

Microsoft’s QDK provides tools and environments to develop Q# language quantum algorithms, to explore quantum superposition, entanglement and other quantum operations.

It’s important to note that you must write completely new algorithms for quantum computers. Existing algorithms written for classical computing hardware are not suitable for quantum computers. Quantum algorithms are designed specifically to use qubits and take advantage of their unique inherent properties of superposition, entanglement and interference to achieve exponential computing power. The computational steps of quantum algorithms use quantum gates, which are operations applied to a qubit that change the quantum state of the qubit.

If all this is too much to take in, don’t worry! At the end of the day, as consumers we won’t need to know how quantum computers work, just as today we don’t need to know how chips work in computers. We don’t care how our devices work, just want them to work faster.

Are you planning for a quantum future?

Do you want to plan for quantum computing but feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the technology and don’t know where to start? With over 30 years’ experience in the information technology industry, I can see through the vendor hype to the reality of what’s possible now and what’s feasible for you. My role is to help you get the solutions you need, rather than spending money on new technology that’s not right for you.

If you’d like to talk further about anything I’ve written about, get in contact with me today, I’m always happy to meet and have a chat over a coffee – in person or online, whatever you’re more comfortable with.

Further reading

Azure Quantum Week 2022, available at: https://lotfourteen.com.au/events/azure-quantum-week-2022

An Australian startup just made a major breakthrough in quantum computing, 23 June 2022, Simon Thomsen, available at: https://www.startupdaily.net/topic/quantum-computing/an-australian-startup-just-made-a-major-breakthrough-in-quantum-computing/

Australian Quantum Alliance, available at: https://techcouncil.com.au/members/quantum/

Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, available at: https://www.cqc2t.org/

Google's Australian quantum computing research program takes shape, 28 July 2022, Richard Chirgwin, available at: https://www.itnews.com.au/news/googles-australian-quantum-computing-research-program-takes-shape-583279

IBM Quantum – real quantum computers, right at your fingertips, available at https://quantum-computing.ibm.com/

In a historic milestone, Azure Quantum demonstrates formerly elusive physics needed to build scalable topological qubits, 14 Mar 2022, Jennifer Langston, available at: https://news.microsoft.com/innovation-stories/azure-quantum-majorana-topological-qubit/

Introduction to Quantum Sensing, Q-CTRL, available at: https://q-ctrl.com/topics/introduction-to-quantum-sensing

Microsoft Azure Quantum documentation, available at: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/training/paths/quantum-computing-fundamentals/

Microsoft Training, Quantum computing foundations, available at: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/training/paths/quantum-computing-fundamentals/

Microsoft Quantum collaborates with Willis Towers Watson to transform risk-management solutions, 22 May 2019, Microsoft Azure Quantum Blog, available at: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/quantum/2019/05/22/microsoft-quantum-collaborates-with-willis-towers-watson-to-transform-risk-management-solutions/

NASA’s JPL uses Microsoft’s Azure Quantum to manage communication with space missions, 27 January 2022, Microsoft Azure Quantum Blog, available at: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/quantum/2022/01/27/nasas-jpl-uses-microsofts-azure-quantum-to-manage-communication-with-space-missions/

OTI Lumionics: accelerating materials design with Azure Quantum, 21 January 2020, Microsoft Azure Quantum Blog, available at: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/quantum/2020/01/21/oti-lumionics-accelerating-materials-design-microsoft-azure-quantum/

Quantum, CSIRO, available at: https://www.csiro.au/en/research/technology-space/quantum-technology

Quantum Computing, Boston Consulting Group, available at: https://www.bcg.com/capabilities/digital-technology-data/emerging-technologies/quantum-computing

Quantum Computing, IBM Institute for Business Value, available at: https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/en-us/technology/quantum-computing

Quantum computing, the sci fi frontier of computing, 8 April 2020, Sonya Weiser, available at: https://www.wisertechnologyadvice.com.au/wiser-technology-advice-blog/quantum-computing-the-sci-fi-frontier-of-computing

Qubit engineering optimizes wind farm energy production with Azure Quantum, 17 May 2022, Microsoft Azure Quantum Blog, available at: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/quantum/2022/05/17/qubit-engineering-optimizes-wind-farm-energy-production-with-azure-quantum/

Shaping the long race in quantum communication and quantum sensing, 21 December 2021, McKinsey & Company, available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/advanced-electronics/our-insights/shaping-the-long-race-in-quantum-communication-and-quantum-sensing

The Future of Quantum Computing: 9 Powerful Use Cases, 8 January 2022, Future Business Tech, available at: https://www.futurebusinesstech.com/blog/future-of-quantum-computing-9-powerful-use-cases

What are the Q# programming language and the Quantum Development Kit?, 8 January 2022, Microsoft, available at: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/quantum/overview-what-is-qsharp-and-qdk

Superposition and entanglement, Quantum Inspire Knowledge Base, available at: https://www.quantum-inspire.com/kbase/superposition-and-entanglement/

Top 10 emerging technologies 2020, 10 November 2021, World Economic Forum, available at: https://www.weforum.org/reports/top-10-emerging-technologies-2020/

Unlocking dramatic improvements to capacity management with Azure Quantum, 15 November 2021, Microsoft Azure Quantum Blog, available at: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/quantum/2021/11/15/unlocking-dramatic-improvements-to-capacity-management-with-azure-quantum/

What is a quantum algorithm? Quantum Inspire Knowledge Base, available at: https://www.quantum-inspire.com/kbase/what-is-a-quantum-algorithm/

Sonya Weiser

Sonya Weiser

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