Why we look carefully at the emergence of the quantum computing eco-system.

By Alexis du Peloux

A dilution refrigerator from an IBM quantum computer. Photo: IBM Research (Flickr)

· Quantum Computing? Wait! Quantum computing? Isn’t that weird computers that look like chandeliers?

· Yes. Euh. Why not.

· I’ve never really been able to figure out what it is and what it’s for.

· Well Unlike a conventional computer that uses 0s or 1s, a quantum computer uses 0s and 1s at the same time. It is therefore a superposition of 0 and 1 that allows the computer to perform many actions at the same time, while being at different stages of development.

· Still don’t understand…

OK. Take a look at this vidéo explains quantum computing to 5 different people: a child, teen, a college student, a grad student and a professional.

The Quantum Revolution

Quantum theory has fundamentally changed our understanding of how light and matter behave at a microscopic scale. It has led to a drastically different approach to computing, sensing and communications: Ground-breaking technologies such as lasers and transistors — the basis for today’s computers and mobile phones — along with a long list of devices ranging from CDs to LED lighting and GPS.

Now, the second quantum revolution is almost upon us — based on our growing ability to manipulate and sense quantum effects in customised systems and materials. This will mean totally new concepts for devices with a real practical impact. It means technologies with far-reaching applications, including secure communication networks, sensitive sensors for biomedical imaging, drug discovery, traffic optimization, quantum-powered Artificial Intelligence and many others.

Ten days ago, we organized an event that brought together more than thirty people on the subject with Valerian Giesz, co-founder of Quandela (patent filled by a silver medal of CNRS), Bruno Desruelle, CEO of Muquans and Jonas Landman who is doing his PhD on the topic at Polytechnique / Berkeley.

In parallel we have decided to map, along with Anthony Ambrosio @ Wilco (http://www.wilco-startup.com/) the European Quantum computing ecosystem. Thanks to FrenchWeb for spreading the word

Mapping the Ecosystem

So far, we have identified six main areas of use: measuring and sensing, electronics, sources, infrastructures / communications, computing and simulation / software.

Quantum infrastructure & communication will allow people to send secure data across distances without the risk of it being hacked or intercepted. The issue is that these systems are expensive and difficult. Additionally, they only work (for now) over distances of about 100 km (about 60 miles). The development of a quantum router will solve the latter problem in about six years according to European Union Experts.

Quantum key distribution (QKD) network, is more secure than widely used electronic communication equivalents. Unlike a conventional telephone or internet cable, which can be tapped without the sender or recipient being aware, a QKD network alerts both users to any tampering with the system as soon as it occurs. This is because tampering immediately alters the information being relayed, with the disturbance being instantly recognisable — secured by nature through quantum properties. In the Jinan network, some 200 users from China’s military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. It will be the world’s longest land-based quantum communications network, stretching over 2 000 km. Quantum infrastructure & communication will be the playing ground of Nations.

A time-lapse photo of Xinglong Observatory communicating with the Micius quantum satellite.

Computing: The recent surge of interest in quantum computing is largely due to the approach of “quantum supremacy,” a point at which quantum computers will exceed the capabilities of the largest classical supercomputers when applied to a relevant and important application use case. According to scientist Quantum supremacy can be comfortably demonstrated with 49 qubits, a circuit depth exceeding 40, and a two-qubit error below 0.5%.

So far Google developed its Bristlecone 72-qubit processor. IBM has an operational 50-qubit quantum computer. Intel has shipped a 49-qubit quantum processor to its research partners for testing. Rigetti has an operational 19-qubit quantum computer. D-Wave has an operational 2048-qubit annealing quantum computer, and Fujitsu has an operational 1024-qubit annealing quantum computer. We believe that this subcategory will be operated by GAFAM & Traditional elephants (Intel, IBM & others).

Quantum simulation; Quantum computing simulation is a vital component in the development of quantum applications and libraries. Large-scale simulation of ideal quantum systems enables researchers to debug their applications for use on devices which will be available in the future, A little over one year ago, in preparation for the more widespread use of quantum systems for computation, IBM Research made the Quantum Information Software Kit (QISKit) available to anyone interested in learning how to encode and simulate algorithms designed for a quantum computer. I personally believe that there will be opportunities to support entrepreneurs in that area in the coming months. Ambitious start-ups are emerging and there are some opportunities for us in that category.

Sources: Over the past decade, a wide variety of physical architectures have been investigated for their suitability for quantum technologies, including trapped atoms and ions in ultra-high vacuum, superconducting circuitry and photonic systems. As the future of quantum computing is not already determined on that point of view, we will keep having a close look at these different blocs.

Finally, there is measuring and sensing, which is the ability to measure the quantum. After all, we can’t use it if we don’t have an ability to interact with and monitor it. We do have the tools for this, at various stages of development. But many of these need to be refined and further advanced before they are truly viable. We do believe that next opportunities might also come on that side. We see opportunities in that specific field that are already emerging.

A geopolitical play?

As China and the United States threaten to corner the market on quantum technologies, Europe is slowly waking up to the opportunity with investment of its own. In 2016, the European Commission announced that it would create a €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) research effort in the field, and it should start to invite grant applications later this year. But scientists coordinating the project say that they are already concerned because industry partners seem reluctant to invest.

While overall spending by China is unknown, its government is building a US$10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in Hefei, Anhui province, which is due to open in 2020 is a good comparison point for war effort.

Sunway TaihuLight

China currently dominates in quantum communication, which uses quantum properties of particles to develop shared secret keys for encryption. The country holds the most patents in the field and is already trialling both a quantum-communication satellite and a 2,000-kilometre secure ground-based link. And the United States leads on patents in quantum computing and ultra-sensitive sensors.

Although Europe produces some of the best research in these fields, other regions are filing more patents. I would like to see a much stronger engagement of European Union

What’s next?

At XAnge we believe that the new era of commercial application has already begun and we are ready to support entrepreneurs-scientists. Please get in touch if you have any interest in the topic! Alexis.dupeloux@xange.fr

Quantum Technologies Timeline from quantum manifesto (European Commission)

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