The rise of Quantum Technologies

06 March 2023
Are quantum technologies just hype or do they have the potential to improve our world? Matter PR takes a quick look at some advances in quantum computing and quantum communications.

Along with Artificial Intelligence, genomics, and Blockchain, one of the most popular technology news trends at the moment is rapidly growing field of all things quantum – from quantum computing, quantum technologies, to quantum sensing and many more.

This novel technology has the power to create super-advanced computers that can perform tasks our current, classical computers would take hundreds of years to achieve. They have attracted significant amounts of investment from both governments and private enterprise and have generated thousands of headlines. Many news outlets have focused on the scary potential of breaking encryption and unravelling the banking system at unprecedented speeds and with mind-blowing dexterity. But, is it just hype?

Sensational headlines aside, we see and speak to our clients who are on the ground working on developing the machinery and theory in this nascent technology space. We recognise the enormous benefits quantum will bring to various sectors across the next decade. From improved sensors and faster computing to improved security and improved machine learning algorithms, the new technology has the potential to truly transform our world. Here, we will take a quick look at the potential quantum technologies have to improve our world.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computers are a type of computer that use quantum mechanical phenomena, exploiting the principles of quantum mechanics like superposition and quantum entanglement to perform immense calculations. They have the potential to solve complex problems faster than classical computers which could have a significant impact on many areas of science and technology. This would lead to significant advancements in fields such as cryptography, finance, simulation, imaging, and drug discovery, to name a few.

While many of the biggest computing companies around the world and some of the world’s leading scientists have made significant progress to create a fully-operational quantum computer, we are still a long way off seeing this type of technology rolled out en masse.  We could see small-scale quantum computers with limited functionality within the next decade, but the development of a full-scale quantum computer could take much longer. Developing a fully-operational quantum computer is a major challenge that requires solving many technical and engineering hurdles. So, how far are we away from widespread adoption?

Companies and organizations like the tech giants Google, IBM, and Microsoft that are currently leading the development of quantum computing. Google is one of the world’s largest technology companies and has been actively developing quantum computers for several years. In 2019, Google claimed to have achieved “quantum supremacy” with a quantum computer that performed a calculation that would have taken a classical computer thousands of years to complete. IBM has been developing quantum computers since the early 2000s and has made significant contributions to the field. They currently offer cloud-based access to several small-scale quantum computers.

Microsoft has been investing in quantum computing research for several years and is developing a programming language and software tools for quantum computing. They currently offer the Microsoft Azure Quantum service – the ‘world’s first full-stack, open cloud quantum computing ecosystem’ for researchers, businesses and developers. Meanwhile, the multinational technology company Honeywell has been developing quantum computers since 2018. In 2020, they announced a quantum computer with 10 qubits, which is one of the most powerful quantum computers currently available. On a smaller scale, a start-up that specializes in developing quantum computers and software tools for quantum computing is Rigetti Computing which currently offers cloud-based access to several small-scale quantum computers.

While it is difficult to predict which company or organization will be the first to develop a fully-operational quantum computer, there is a lot of excitement and interest in the potential of this technology to transform computing and solve some of the world’s most complex scientific problems in a matter of hours rather than the years it would take with classical computing.

Quantum Communication

Quantum communication uses the principles of quantum mechanics to create secure communication channels that are impossible to hack or intercept without detection. Some of the most notable trends in quantum communication include Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) and Quantum random number generators (QRNGs).

Quantum Key Distribution – QKD is a method of secure communication that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to encrypt and decrypt data. In the short term, the use of QKD has helped to help establish the world’s first “hack proof” communications. QKD is expected to become more widespread, particularly in government and military applications. Researchers have already developed high-speed QKD systems that can transmit data at rates of several gigabits per second over long distances. For instance, in 2020, a team of researchers from China successfully demonstrated a QKD system that can transmit data at a rate of 18.1 Gbps over a distance of 600 km. Similarly, satellites for QKD have been a major area of research in recent years. In 2017, Chinese scientists sent the first quantum transmission from earth to an orbiting satellite, successfully demonstrating a satellite-based QKD system that transmitted secure keys over a distance of 1,120 km.

Researchers have also made significant progress in improving the security of QKD systems. For example, researchers have advanced our defences against eavesdropping by using a technique called measurement-device independent (MDI) quantum key distribution (QKD) that is immune to attacks from a type of hacking called the “man-in-the-middle” attack. This novel quantum communication protocol enables two users (a transmitter “Alice” and a receiver “Bob”) to communicate with perfect security, even if the measurement hardware has been tampered with. This is achieved by measuring correlations between signals from Alice and Bob, rather than the actual signals themselves.

QKD is also moving closer to commercialisation, with several companies now offering QKD products and services. For instance, in 2021, the Cambridge Research Laboratory of Toshiba Europe announced the first demonstration of quantum communications over optical fibres exceeding 600 km. The breakthrough is one of many steps to enable long distance quantum-secured information transfer between metropolitan areas and is a major advance towards building the future Quantum Internet.

Quantum Random Number Generators – As quantum computing technology advances, so does the threat of quantum hacking. Researchers are developing new security protocols and encryption methods to protect against potential attacks. QRNGs are used to generate random numbers that are essential for encryption and decryption. In the short term, QRNGs are expected to become more prevalent in applications that require high levels of security, such as online banking and e-commerce.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, two quantum spinoff companies exhibited technologies designed to provide cutting-edge privacy and security in our communications, making it virtually impossible for messages to be intercepted. LuxQuanta – an ICFO spin-off which is working on providing unrivalled security and defences to conventional communication infrastructures with quantum cryptography – revealed their first product, the “NOVA LQ™” system – a Continuous Variable Quantum Key Distribution (CV-QKD) solution for intra-city networks.

Vanesa Diaz, CEO of LuxQuanta, said: “This first system is the materialisation of over five years of research and development. Both our organisation and our product were born in response to an exponential rise in demand for Quantum Cryptography systems.”

Another exhibitor, Quside, revealed its Randomness Processing Unit (RPU), a first-of-its-kind quantum random number generator (QRNG) device designed to provide unrivalled encryption and decryption for applications that need high levels of security, such as online banking and e-commerce.

Carlos Abellan, Co-founder and CEO of Quside said: “We’re excited to showcase the world’s first RPU at this year’s Mobile World Congress. The compute acceleration capabilities of this groundbreaking product have endless use cases in industries such as finance and mobile networks. We couldn’t think of a better place to debut this innovation than at MWC, and we’d like to express our sincere gratitude to the Quantum Flagship for providing us with this opportunity.” With its RPU, the team is currently providing a suite of solutions to a number of clients from industry and academia.

Overall, as the quantum technology space advances, it is likely that we will see significant improvements in security and data privacy across multiple sectors. While we cannot know the future, this new technology is certainly an exponentially growing field with significant investments from public and private enterprises. There are many short and long-term trends that are expected to revolutionise secure communication and the security of encryption.

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