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Envisioning the Quantum Timeline

 

Author – Devdutt Shenoi

 

As you read, research into Quantum Computing is making leaps and bounds, overcoming challenges of building a commercially viable quantum computer as well as ideating applications that haven’t been fathomed yet, in short developments in the field are taking an ever increasing pace. We are seeing applications of QC in everything from simulating complex molecular chemistry for pharmaceutical purposes, to creating highly encrypted communication channels. In a world of ever changing needs, the complex quantum nature of a qubit, much unlike discrete bits from a classical computer, allows for it to simulate gray areas as a result of their ability to assume a superposition of states, a concept pretty far fetched for the binary world, but efficiently simulating complexities of real world entities. With the advent of quantum, abilities of classical computers are being challenged, but this is not to say that they will become obsolete, much of the opposite rather. The very nature of QC requires a digital machine to be used as a facilitator, an interface with the rest of the world.

 

Right now, a great challenge to the miniaturization of QC systems from the room sized form-factor, comes from requiring large refrigerators in creating the freezing, ~0.015°K environments which help in keeping quantum states from collapsing into chaos, severely hindering their use. Recent research into material science at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has provided us a glimmer of hope, with their unconventional use of electrical current instead of cryogenic liquids as a heat dissipation technique, and though there is a lot more to be achieved, this advancement propels developments, by a lot. Meanwhile the pursuit for building QC systems that can run at room temperature has skyrocketed, US Army researchers are increasingly serious about the potential of creating quantum logic gates with photonic circuits incorporating nonlinear optical crystals, making them a very likely contender in the race to miniaturization. As mentioned above, the chaotic nature of quantum particles in QC systems and other factors introduce errors that are extremely difficult to remove, but findings from a research project at the US DoE’s Berkeley Lab provides respite, as they have used common error-reduction techniques from particle physics as a solution to this very problem.

 

While we dream of a future that is built in the quantum realm, we quite often forget that it is in fact a product of research into quantum physics that has gotten us technical breakthroughs in classical computation. Be it the semiconductors used in building extremely compact and powerful circuits or the LASER that is used as a backbone for world-wide internet connectivity, a medium for fibre optic and satellite communication, we have built on findings from quantum research. Similarly, we are at a crossroads where quantum networks will soon establish themselves as a super secure means of communication between QC systems, proving helpful in creating distributed clusters that can solve complex problems and remain as disparate systems which need not be co-located at the same lab or research centre. To add to this, the very recent innovation of a “Quantum Modem” at the Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik in Germany allows for the use of commonly available optical fibre based telecommunication infrastructure in creating a quantum network, transferring quantum information with the use of light photons. The creation of a high efficiency “Quantum Memory” , allows for the storage of transient quantum information and the construction of simpler Quantum Repeaters that can facilitate long distance communication on the quantum internet, without loss.

 

In a very different race, we have seen QC concepts applied in molecular chemistry to solve challenging problems, such as drug discovery. With the pandemic, many research efforts have been redirected at providing a feasible vaccine, and this has piqued the interest of QC researchers towards the capabilities of QC systems in modelling the complex nature of chemical compounds. All of this comes at a time when we are approaching a bottleneck in the miniaturization of semiconductor circuit fabrication techniques. Above mentioned developments signal that QC systems might in a decade or two enter popular adoption, featuring in devices as common as the home PC and this democratization will lead to applications that impact computing as a whole. There is prospect for such devices facilitating applications such as realistic VR and impenetrable internet security, which come together to provide a globally connected virtual reality of the likes mentioned in popular science fiction. The pace of innovation in quantum computing is exponential, and proves to be on “quantum drive”!

 

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Devdutt Shenoi

Author
Model Engineering College

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