A quantum computer in a vibration-free building. Quantum computing will eventually accelerate the computing power that powers many industries and could affect everything from drug discovery to the way data is secured.
Oliver Berg | Image Alliance | Getty Images
Quantum computing was already gaining momentum in Japan and elsewhere in Asia when the University of Tokyo and IBM launched their new quantum computer last year.
The computer was the second such system built by IBM outside the United States — the latest in a series of significant steps in quantum research.
The university and IBM have led the Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium, along with Japanese industry heavyweights such as Toyota and Sony – all for the purpose of solving the quantum question.
Quantum computing refers to the use of quantum mechanics to perform calculations. Quantum computing can run multiple processes at once by using quantum bits, unlike binary bits that power traditional computing.
Challenging US ‘hegemony’
The new technology will eventually accelerate the computing power that powers many industries and could affect everything from drug discovery to the way data is secured. Several countries are racing to get quantum computers fully operational.
Christopher Savoie, CEO of quantum computing company Zapata, which has spent much of his career in Japan, said technology development is very US-centric. But now Asian countries don’t want to be left behind on quantum computing, he added.
“National states like India, Japan and China are very interested in not being the only people who don’t have capacity there. They don’t want to see the kind of hegemony that has emerged where the big cloud aggregators generally only American companies are,” Savoie said, referring to people like… Amazon Web services and Microsoft Azure.
For example, China has put a lot of brainpower into the quantum race. Researchers have touted breakthroughs and debates simmer about whether China has surpassed the US on some fronts.
India for its part announced plans earlier this year to invest $1 billion in a five-year plan to develop a quantum computer in the country.
James Sanders, an analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence, told CNBC that governments around the world have shown a greater interest in quantum computing in recent years.
In March, Sanders published a report showing that governments have pledged about $4.2 billion to support quantum research. Some notable examples include South Korea’s $40 million investment in the field and Singapore’s Ministry of Education’s funding of a research center, The Center for Quantum Technologies.
Where will it be used?
All these efforts have a long lens on the future. And to some, the benefits of quantum may seem vague.
According to Sanders, the benefits of quantum computing will not be immediately apparent to the everyday consumer.
What is likely to happen is that quantum computers will eventually be used in designing products that consumers eventually buy.
analyst, S&P Global Market Intelligence
“On a bad day, I’ll talk people off the idea of quantum mobile phones. That’s not realistic, that’s going to be nothing,” he said.
“What’s likely to happen is that quantum computers will eventually be used in designing products that consumers eventually buy.”
There are two main areas where the quantum breakthrough will be felt: industry and defense.
An employee of technology company Q.ant puts a chip for quantum computing in a test station in Stuttgart, Germany, on September 14, 2021. most common encryption methods for securing data.
Thomas Kienzle | Afp | Getty Images
“Areas where you have HPC [high-performance computing] are areas where we will see quantum computers have an impact. It’s things like materials simulation, aerodynamic simulation, things like this, very high, difficult computational problems and then artificial intelligence through machine learning,” Savoie said.
In pharmaceuticals, traditional systems for calculating the behavior of drug molecules can be time consuming. The speed of quantum computing could rapidly increase these drug discovery processes and, ultimately, the timeline for drugs coming to market.
On the other hand, quantum can pose security challenges. As computing power increases, so does the risk to existing security methods.
“The Longer Term” [motivation] but the one that everyone recognizes as an existential threat, both offensive and defensive, is the field of cryptography. RSA will eventually be compromised because of this,” added Savoie.
RSA refers to one of the most common encryption methods for securing data, developed in 1977, which could be disrupted by the speed of quantum. It is named after its inventors – Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman.
You see a lot of interest from governments and communities who don’t want to be the last people to have that technology because [other nations] to decrypt our messages.
CEO of Zapata
“You see a lot of interest from governments and communities who don’t want to be the last people to have that technology because [other nations] can decrypt our messages,” said Savoie.
Magda Lilia Chelly, chief information security officer at Singaporean cybersecurity firm Responsible Cyber, told CNBC that there must be a two-pronged track of encryption and quantum research and development so that security is not surpassed.
“Some experts believe that eventually quantum computers will be able to break all forms of encryption, while others believe that new and more sophisticated forms of encryption will be developed that cannot be broken by quantum computers,” Chelly said.
A quantum processor on a prototype of a quantum computer. There must be a dual track of encryption and quantum research and development so that security is not surpassed, said Magda Lilia Chelly, chief information security officer at Singaporean cybersecurity firm Responsible Cyber.
Julian Stratenschulte/dpa | Image Alliance | Getty Images
“Mainly, [researchers] have looked at ways to use quantum computers to quickly factorize large numbers. This is important because many of the modern coding schemes in use today rely on the fact that it is very difficult to factor large numbers,” she added.
If successful, it would make it possible to break most current encryption schemes, making it possible to unlock encrypted messages.
Sanders said the development and eventual commercialization of quantum computing will not be a straight line.
Issues such as the threat to encryption can mount attention from governmentsbut research and breakthroughs, as well as mainstream interest, can be “stop-starts,” he said.
Progress may also be affected by fluctuating interest from private investors, as quantum computing does not provide a quick return on investment.
“There are a lot of situations in this industry where you might have a week head start and then another company comes up with a different type of progress and then everything just kind of goes quiet.”
Another looming challenge for quantum research is finding the right talent with specific skills for this research.
“Quantum scientists who can do quantum computing don’t grow on trees,” Savoie said, adding that cross-border collaboration is necessary in the face of competing government interests.
“Talent is worldwide. People can’t choose in which country they are born or what nationality they have.”