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Essential Science: The world’s most powerful quantum computer

Our world relies heavily on intractable encryption to protect everything from digital signatures, private emails and banking information. Yet these day-to-day transactions are vulnerable to cyberattack (as Digital Journal has regularly featured). Moreover, more advanced encryption systems like AES-256 & RSA (the current encryption standards) could be opened up due to quantum computers falling into the hands of threat actors, meaning all encrypted files could one day be decrypted – so-termed ‘quantum hacking‘.

Yet quantum computing, as it advances, itself offers advantages to address these issues. In addition, quantum computing promises to drive through advances in medicine and healthcare.

In this edition of Essential Science, we look at some recent innovations with quantum computing.

Quantum power

Quantum computer is based on the underlying tenets of quantum theory, which look at the behavior of energy and material on the atomic and subatomic levels. Quantum computers are powerful because fragments of data on a quantum computer, can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. Through this, scientists can seek to harness some of the incredible potential of quantum mechanics to process exponentially larger amounts of information. These fragments are known as qubits, and due to their dual-state nature they can significantly accumulate computing power.

The phenomenon of superposition enables one qubit perform two calculations at once. This means that if two qubits are linked through an effect called entanglement, they can help perform four calculations simultaneously. It follows that three qubits linked can perform eight calculations; and so on…

Google races for quantum supremacy

Googles quantum computer is called Sycamore (a 53-qubit device) and with it Google is seeking “quantum supremacy”, moving to create a platform that will out-shine today’s supercomputers. This will be by solving problems considered virtually impossible for normal machines.

Inside Google Research offices in Zurich  Switzerland.

Inside Google Research offices in Zurich, Switzerland.

Google’s current stage of development is with its quantum computer being capable of completing a complex computation in 200 seconds; a time that would taken the most powerful supercomputers approximately 10,000 years to finish. This is according to research presented to the journal Nature (“Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor.”)

In light of Google’s success, IBM disputed the claim, arguing that the Google team underestimated IBM’s Summit supercomputer.

Where are IBM?

IBM are a major competitor in the quantum computing race. Earlier in 2020, the company declared it had built a quantum computer with a quantum volume of 32.

File photo: IBM Security instructors at the company's security business headquarters  simulate cyb...

File photo: IBM Security instructors at the company’s security business headquarters, simulate cyber attacks in the world’s first commercial cyber range at the IBM X-Force Command Center in Cambridge, Mass.
MIT and IBM Watson AI Research Lab (CC BY-ND 2.0)

With IBM challenging Google and uncertainly over what consistences quantum supremacy (see the article “How many qubits are needed for quantum computational supremacy?“, from the journal Quantum), the debate looked set to run…until Honeywell’s June 2020 pronouncement.

Honeywell’s development

Honeywell has declared that it has built the world’s most powerful quantum computer. The machine is called the H0, and it has achieved a quantum volume of 64, which means the firm managed to tether six qubits. To put this into context, this is apparently twice as powerful as IBM’s quantum computer, which has a quantum volume of 32.

Beware  computer viruses. Many computer users don t update anti-virus software

Beware, computer viruses. Many computer users don’t update anti-virus software
Kacper Pempel / Reuters

These measures are important, since the higher the quantum volume, then the more real-world, complex problems quantum computers can potentially solve, such as simulating chemistry, modeling financial risk, and supply chain optimization.

READ MORE: IBM opens up quantum computing to solve ‘real problems’

The following video describes the technology in greater detail:

The computer can be used for a number of applications, as the next section of this article outlines.

Honeywell’s quantum-optimized machine learning can help with cancer, market crashes and pandemics

One of the areas quantum computing, whether it’s near-term, NISQ or quantum-inspired, can have a real impact today and in the near future is machine learning. There are two challenges quantum computing can help solve. First, where lack or shortage of data is hampering machine learning models, a quantum approach can help create similar data sets that can then be leveraged to train software models.

Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles.

Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles.
Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine (CC BY 2.5)

What can quantum computing deliver?

One example of that quantum computing can theoretically be used for is with diagnosing hard-to-assess problems like a rare form of lung cancer where you only have data from a handful of patients. Quantum computing can generate pictures of that lung cancer cell or that lung cancer MRI image to train a machine learning data set to recognize that form of cancer in your next patient.

In addition, quantum computing can help with hard-to-predict future market, environmental or pandemic scenarios. Because of its computational power and its ability to factor in multiple variables at scale, including how each variable can change over time and how these variables can possibly interact with each other, creating many models and running simulated outcomes against those, quantum computing can help not only with tough optimization problems but also things like climate change and pandemic predictions and their respective response strategies.

Practical application

As an example of the practical application of quantum computing finance giant J.P. Morgan Chase has reported on a study titled “Canonical Construction of Quantum Oracles.” The paper specifically thanks Honeywell, “for their invaluable help on the execution of our experiments on the Honeywell quantum computer.”

Stock brokers work in front of the display showing the German stock market index DAX at the stock ex...

Stock brokers work in front of the display showing the German stock market index DAX at the stock exchange in Frankfurt am Main, central Germany on March 14, 2014
Boris Roessler, DPA/AFP/File

The paper is designed to enhance financial modelling and it presents a novel means to produce a quantum oracle from an algebraic expression, designed to map out a set of selected states to the same value, coupled with a simple oracle that matches that particular value.

Essential Science

This article forms part of Digital Journal’s regular and long-running Essential Science column, where an more in-depth view is taken of a topical science issue.

An extra membrane camouflages Gram-negative bacteria from drugs and the immune system. This is a scn...

An extra membrane camouflages Gram-negative bacteria from drugs and the immune system. This is a scnning electron micrograph image of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Janice Haney Carr, Content Provider CDC

Last week we reported how microbiologists have successful developed a so-termed ‘poisoned arrow’ designed to defeat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Such developments are critical in the battle against antimicrobial resistant organisms. The success is based on a dual-mechanism.

The week before we looked at new advances in the field of soft and micro-robots, with new speeds being accomplished for both flat surfaces and through water. These developments open up opportunities for new applications.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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