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The Race for Quantum Supremacy

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When Project Q began its investigations into quantum innovation in 2013, the prospect of a functioning quantum computer was often given, at best, as somewhere between 15 to 20 years out. With each passing year, the timeline began to collapse.

This month the Project Q team once again took to the road for its documentary film. We visited the big names in quantum computing (as well as some smaller start-ups) and interviewed some of the key thinkers in the field. The takeaway? Quantum supremacy – the moment when a quantum computer solves problems a classical computer cannot – could well be reached in the next six months.

For those unfamiliar with the differences, quantum computing represents not only a substantive jump from classical computing but revolutionises the very way in which computing processing takes place. Qubits, the quantum-bits that form the basic elements of a quantum computer, are able to exist in multiple states of 1 and 0, whereas classical computers use digital bits operating in on-off states of either 1 or 0. The superposition of states vastly improves the rate in which calculations are made, and opens the door to new and potentially disruptive applications.

One of the highlights of trip was our visit to the quantum Google Lab in Santa Barbara, California, where we interviewed chief scientist John Martinis in a meeting room named after Richard Feynman, the brilliant physicist who first came up with the idea of a quantum computer in 1981 (yes, there were bongo drums).

Project Q visits John Martinis at Google Lab

The development of a 49-qubit chip by Alphabet (Google’s parent corporation) was not only mooted but given a roll-out date of the end of the year. While a practical quantum computer for the end user might still be a decade away – and require hundreds of thousands of qubits and robust quantum error correction – a 49-qubit chip paves the way towards quantum supremacy in areas like the factoring of prime numbers (which keeps the NSA up at night) or the simulation of complex systems (which would be very useful in chemistry, medicine and weather prediction).

Upon landing back in Sydney, we found many of our findings confirmed in a lead article in the Wall Street Journal. Keeping one eye on the shrinking timeline for quantum computing, and the other on a growing need to bring the public up to speed, we decided it might also be a good idea to move up the delivery date of our documentary film, Project Q: The Question of Quantum.

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The Cyber Age Demands a New Understanding of War — but We’d Better Hurry

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Project Q Director, James Der Derian wrote an article for a special feature about war in the cyber age on the Berggruen Institute’s Zócalo Public Square. The article traces the history of ‘cyberwar’ and our understanding of it, but highlights the need to consider war in a quantum age.

Read the full article here via the Berggruen Institute’s website.

Image: Berggruen Institute website

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The future is quantum: solution to the world’s critical problems

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Quantum physicist and professor from the University of Bristol, Jeremy O’Brien writes, ‘quantum computers will solve problems that conventional computers never could’ in this latest piece for the Financial Times (paywalled).

The article covers the general problem with conventional computers, and what quantum computers offer as a solution. O’Brien describes the benefits a quantum computer may bring: from designing new pharmaceuticals to solving “unquantum” problems such as increased database search speeds.

“We may ultimately use this simulation power to design new pharmaceuticals, clean energy devices and polymer membranes for fuel cells. In fact, we could apply quantum computing to the design of any material for any purpose — from transport and construction to sensors and prosthetics — since those materials are ultimately made of molecules and atoms, and understanding their properties and interactions is a quantum mechanical problem. This is one of the most compelling features of quantum computing: it’s a technology that expands the way we can think, and the extent of the possible solutions we can investigate.”

This article was published as part of the ‘Masters of Science’ series, showcasing insights from men and women at the forefront of the most exciting research today. Jeremy O’Brien is the director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics (CQP) at the University of Bristol.

Image: Open Transcripts.org

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A sneak preview of ‘Project Q: The Question of Quantum’

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At a special roundtable at the International Studies Association (ISA) meeting in Baltimore, James Der Derian, Director of CISS at The University of Sydney, presented the teaser for the documentary film Project Q: The Question of Quantum. Click above to watch.

The teaser takes us from the subatomic to the cosmic to ask the question of what happens when quantum computing, communication and artificial intelligence go online. The film is a part of a transmedia project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York that will include a special issue of the Security Dialogue journal; a collected volume of multidisciplinary essays; and an e-book for policymakers.

All four will be tied together by the Project Q website, which acts as a hub for the latest news stories, short video features, interviews and archival material from past events.

The roundtable, ‘What’s Quantum Got to Do with It?: A New Philosophy for the Science of International Relations’ will feature presentations by William E. Connolly (Johns Hopkins University), Larry N. George (California State University, Long Beach), Jairus V. Grove (University of Hawaii, Manoa), Alexander Wendt (Ohio State University), Colin Wight (University of Sydney), Shohini Ghose (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Stephen Del Rosso (Carnegie Corporation of New York).

Recently, Stephen Del Rosso from the Carnegie Corporation of New York wrote a piece on quantum philanthropy which highlighted Project Q’s work to better understand quantum’s far-reaching implications. The piece is now available to read without a pay wall here via the Carnegie Corporation website.

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Project Q is highlighted in this new piece on ‘quantum philanthropy’

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Program director for international peace and security at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Stephen Del Rosso, writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy on the increasing need for philanthropists to help further public understanding of the societal implications of quantum innovation, highlighting Project Q’s leading role in the effort.

Del Rosso writes, “Quantum presents a ripe target of opportunity for foundations that have long supported efforts to explore and explain complex notions rooted in science — from nuclear security to climate change — that affect our everyday lives. Moreover, through its grant making to scholars and policy experts and increasing interest in broadly disseminating their findings, philanthropy is well-positioned to take on this challenge.”

The article describes research endeavours by tech giants Microsoft, Google and IBM, as well as government agencies and major universities such as the University of Sydney’s Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) who are working on different developmental paths to a fully functioning quantum computer.

“Philanthropy is unhindered by the crisis-to-crisis mode of government operations or the disciplinary imperatives of the academy, so it is ideally suited to sponsor investigation into the relevance of quantum approaches today and in the future.” (more…)

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Foundations are joining the forefront to support research in quantum physics

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The Simons Foundation recently announced the formation of the Center for Computational Quantum Physics (CCQ), with the appointment of Antoine Georges as its director.

The announcement comes as a sign of growing interest by foundations in the research and development of quantum systems, joining government bodies and companies alike (i.e. Google, IBM, Microsoft).

According to the Simons Foundation website, CCQ is expected to comprise up to 60 scientific and support personnel, and will host meetings, workshops and conferences with the aim to serve as a focal point for computational materials science internationally.  The Center is also aiming to “develop the concepts, algorithms and computational tools needed to handle many-body quantum systems […] and make them available to the scientific community.”

CCQ’s new director, Antoine Georges is Chair in Condensed Matter Physics at the Collège de France and is Professor of Physics at Ecole Polytechnique and at the University of Geneva. The new Center will begin operations in September 2017 alongside the Centers for Computational Astrophysics and Computational Biology within the Simons Foundations’ Flatiron Institute in Manhattan.

Image: Simons Foundation

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Are open-source softwares a step forward in our quest for quantum computers?

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In the race to develop and build quantum computers, D-Wave are making a new software tool to help developers program D-Wave machines without any necessary experience in quantum physics or advanced mathematics, according to this piece on Wired Magazine by Klint Finley.

The software tool, Qbsolv, will be made open-source, meaning anyone will be able to freely share and modify the software. It is an interesting move by D-Wave, who hope the software will get other researchers and practitioners “involved in charting the future directions of quantum computing developments”. D-Wave International president Bo Ewald says, “we need more smart people thinking about applications, and another set thinking about software tools.”

The new software will join a growing pool of readily available software for quantum computer programmers, such as Qmasm, which assists developers by removing the worry about addressing underlying hardware in D-Wave machines. Finley writes on Ewald’s goal is to “kickstart a quantum computing software tools ecosystem and foster a community of developers working on quantum computer problems.”

Unfortunately, softwares such as Qbsolv actually require access to D-Wave machines, of which there are a few. Rather, programs and softwares such as Qbsolv and Qmasm are step towards improving the way we visualise problems within quantum computing. Finley, however, is less emphatic and writes “they’ll need more than just open source software […] They’ll need an open source community.”

Image: Getty Images

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Is 2017 the year of the quantum computer?

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With computing giants such as Google and Microsoft, along with a host of labs and start-ups all pledging to build the first quantum computer, the quantum race is set to heat up this new year.

This piece in the Nature journal outlines the newest endeavours by Google and more recently by Microsoft, as well as by academic labs and quantum computing start-ups alike.

Google is hoping to perform quantum computation beyond the most powerful ‘classical’ supercomputers this year, by harnessing superconductivity in a project they began in 2014. Microsoft on the other hand plan to work on an unproven concept, topological quantum computing, and hope to perform a first demonstration on the technology.

Christopher Monroe, physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park who co-founded the start-up IonQ, noticed “people are really building things […] It’s no longer just research.”


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Project Q interviews leading figure in Microsoft’s new quantum computing initiative

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On the cusp of the New York Times’ announcement that Microsoft was going all in on quantum computing, the Project Q team was in Copenhagen to interview Villum Kann Rasmussen Professor Charles Marcus at the Niels Bohr Institute, where the quantum revolution first began.

Professor Marcus along with Leo Kouwenhoven from the Delft University of Technology and David Reilly from the University of Sydney, all leading figures in the field of quantum computing, have been brought in by Microsoft in a combined effort to create the first scalable quantum computer using topological qubits.

Watch a clip from the interview below.

Image: From left, Leo Kouwenhoven and Charles Marcus attend the 2014 Microsoft’s Station Q conference in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Brian Smale)