What will quantum technologies that promise to be revolutionary be used for?

The government has decided to set up an interdepartmental “task force” so as not to miss the quantum “bend”, this science of the infinitely small, which will disrupt many fields.

It sounds like science fiction. And so far it still is. But quantum technologies are taking shape. So much so that the government on Thursday announced the creation of a dedicated inter-ministerial “task force”.

Specifically, it is a working group that includes the Ministries of Defense, Economy and Research, Public Research (CEA, Inria and CNRS) and financial actors (Bpifrance and the General Secretariat for Investment).

its goal? “Ensure funding at a good level of the most productive programs” through the Disruptive Investment Fund, the Productive Pact or the future Programming Program on Research, states Minister of Research Frédérique Vidal on the occasion of the presentation by a Member of Parliament regarding. subject of a report to the National Assembly. The idea is not to miss out on this “bend”, a real economic issue, but also on the sovereignty of the French state.

From 10,000 years to 200 seconds

So what does it consist of? The term “quantum” refers to the infinitely small. On an atomic scale, the properties of matter change and open up new perspectives in data processing, physics and even medicine.

“Quantum mechanics is a discipline in physics that emerged in the years 1890-1900,” explains Olivier Hess, quantum expert at IBM France on the set of Inside. Then, in the late 20th century, the idea emerged that this mechanism could “lead to a quantum technology”. Namely, the famous quantum computer, probably the best example of the revolution taking place.

By freeing itself from the classic binary language of a current computer, this machine of the future increases its power tenfold. Specifically, a calculation that would take a NASA computer 10,000 years would be performed in … 200 seconds by a quantum computer.

Google had also announced that it had reached “quantum domination” in September last year, that is, the transition to calculations impossible with a conventional computer, no matter how powerful it may be. The study had been challenged by IBM. It must be said that the economic effort is enormous, as technology should disrupt our future. All the digital giants are interested in it, such as Microsoft, Huawei, Alibaba and HP.

The future of self-driving cars

The first advantage of quantum is therefore the speed of calculation and therefore the processing of data in real time. The technology, for example, will be very interesting for tomorrow’s mobility, especially for the self-driving car. The mass of data to be processed in a world dominated by the Internet of Things should be very easily managed by quantum computers. In 2017, Volkswagen announced a partnership with Canadian DWave Systems to develop new algorithms that are much more advanced than existing ones. If it looked more like an advertising stunt, it also showed the ambition of professionals in the sector.

In the same way, voice or face recognition also becomes more refined, freight is better organized, energy production is better optimized … The potential is therefore enormous.

Another promising area for quantum is the encryption of data with new algorithms that would be physically unbreakable. In 2016, China launched a quantum communications satellite into space that uses photons (a component of light) to transmit data. Attempts to observe a photon, however, change its properties: the attempt at espionage or eavesdropping is therefore immediately noticed.

In the healthcare field, the speed of quantum computers will make it possible to develop new drugs by creating much more genetic simulations than with current machines.

“Quantum benefit” in 3 or 5 years

So where are we with the quantum computer? “He exists physically” assures Olivier Hess. Before tempering: These machines “today remain inferior to conventional machines”, he explains. “But they have the stability, the sufficient maturity to allow them to start doing things.”

At IBM, we hope to reach the “quantum advantage” in 3 or 5 years, that is, the moment when we will surpass “on certain types of problems, a classic machine.” But we will still be in the state of a prototype, which is not very useful in practice.

However, France does not want to let the train pass. The parliamentary report recommends an investment of 1.4 billion euros over 5 years. Probably too little to take the lead. But at least enough to follow the movement.

From Bit to Qubit

Instead of bits, the computer in Qubit counts. A classic computer adjusts the 0s and 1s. A quantum computer is capable of connecting the 0s and 1s … but also of superimposing them. This phenomenon of superposition is one of the reasons for quantum physics, and it is also what allows faster calculations.

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