France, the first country in quantum calculus?

Since the announcement of its ambitious strategy in January 2021, the country has continued its efforts to impose itself on an area where many are also engaged in the race, hoping to one day be proclaimed leader.

On January 21, 2021, Emmanuel Macron unveiled a national strategy on quantum technologies. Based on the principles of quantum physics, the latter arouses interest in several countries. Currently, the computer is one of the best known technologies in this field. With its capabilities better than conventional systems, it would be able to solve complex problems in minutes, while it would require several years of computation for current computers and therefore a huge amount of energy. Google claims, for example, that its quantum system is capable of performing an operation – which would take 10,000 years of computing for the best current classic supercomputer – in three minutes and twenty seconds.

In the future, it will then be possible to predict the spread of the epidemic or to identify the warning signs of natural disasters. These are just a few examples of what quantum technologies could accomplish. This is primarily the reason why countries seek so much to exploit them. “The promises of apps are so exciting and potentially interesting that countries want to be sure they have access to them and possibly get a piece of the pie in the commercial perspectives that it can present”says Olivier Ezratty, consultant in quantum technologies.

Progress in France and around the world

With its strategy launched last year, the government hopes to place France among the first quantum powers. An investment of 1.8 billion euros is therefore planned “guarantee and maintain the country’s independence in this technological field, which will shape the future”. To this end, France in particular aims to be among the first nations to develop a large-scale universal quantum computer. She hopes to have “of a complete prototype of a general first generation quantum computer” from 2023.

Since the publication of the quantum plan, the country has made slow progress in its projects. For Olivier Ezratty, it is due to the French administrative complexity. In September, the state launched its Priority Research Equipment Program (PEPR) dedicated to quantum technologies and awarded € 150 million. Led by CNRS, CEA and INRIA, it focuses on four areas, including qubits (quantum information storage devices) and software tools, ie. algorithms and error-correcting codes. The first calls for projects should be announced in the coming weeks. Recently, the government announced the launch of a national quantum computer platform that will be made available to researchers, start-ups and specialists to enable them to identify, develop and test new use cases.

The quantum computer.© Bartlomiej K. Wroblewski / Shutterstock

On the other hand, some countries have also seen progress in the quantum sector. In computer science, three Japanese, Dutch and Australian research teams – whose work has been published in the journal Nature Have just announced that they have achieved an error rate of less than 1% with their quantum units. Among them, the team from the University of South Wales, Australia, would have managed to achieve an accuracy of 99.95% for a qubit. “When errors are so rare, it becomes possible to detect them and correct them when they occur. This shows that it is possible to build quantum computers that have sufficient scale and enough power to handle meaningful calculations. “said Professor Andrea Morello, who led the work.

Alliances to fight competition

In addition to other countries’ advances in quantum technologies, France must also face Chinese and American competitors, which have greater resources. That is why it also seeks to make Europe a leader in this field by multiplying cooperation. For example, a partnership has been entered into with the Netherlands with regard to “strengthen bilateral cooperation in quantum technologies”. Through this partnership, the two countries want, among other things, to develop research and employment in this sector.

For Olivier Ezratty, these European collaborations are the right way to go: “You have to have an international approach, and that is what the people who lead the plan have embraced. You have to be smart and quantum, that means “alliance strategy”. The expert even estimates that in the long run it will be necessary to create European investment funds, and not just local funds, to close the gap in private financing between the United States and France.

This difference was mentioned by the CEO of Pasqal, a start-up company specializing in quantum computers, during a public consultation conducted by the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices in October 2021. “This community [IonQ] is now worth $ 2 billion. And others are starting to follow the same path (…) Today, I have concrete competitors in the United States who have 600 million euros in their bank account to carry out their strategy ”.

France’s projects for 2022

In 2022, France will continue its efforts within the framework of its quantum plan. In the coming months, for example, the government plans to launch a call for projects for post-quantum cryptography, a branch of cryptography that consists of developing algorithms that enable quantum computers to resist attacks. With the development of information technology in this field, it is certainly becoming necessary to be able to guarantee data security.

But for Olivier Ezratty, the state should also be interested in quantum cryptography, which uses the properties of quantum physics to secure the transport of information. “The problem is that the state feels that quantum cryptography is similar to post-quantum cryptography when it really is not.”. He also explains that the technologies have been developed with quantum cryptography “are technologies that ultimately serve to develop the quantum Internet, communication between quantum computers, between quantum computer and sensor”. Another reason not to “not to give up” this topic.

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