On the 24th of October 1927, in a gorgeously decorated ballroom turned- conference- room at the Hotel Métropole in Brussels, Belgium, physics history was made.
On the occasion of the fifth Solvay Conference, the world’s most notable physicists met to discuss the subject of “Electrons and Photons,” but the event’s overarching aim was to debate a newly formulated and distinctly controversial theory. Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Marie Curie, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, and Erwin Schrödinger—some of the all-time greatest luminaries of science—were present. The topic at hand? Quantum theory.`
As the theoretical basis of modern physics, quantum theory explains the nature and behavior of matter and energy on the atomic and the subatomic levels. It is an undeniably weird and puzzling subject, even more so in 1927, almost a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, it remains a powerfully accurate theory, deeply rooted in some of the most groundbreaking scientific work of the best minds of the last century.
Although the history of quantum physics—and, it follows, quantum technology—didn’t start with the 1927 conference, the event represented the apex of the interpretation debate that surrounded the subject’s findings. In the words of Heisenberg, one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics, the fifth Solvay Conference “contributed extraordinarily to the clarification of the physical foundations of the quantum theory” as to form its “outward completion.”
The rest, as they say, was history. And history … well, it led us to where we are today.
THE REVOLUTION OF QUANTUM COMPUTING
Quantum mechanics is the key foundation on which technologies ranging from computer chips to LED lighting, from MRI scanners to lasers, and from solar cells to simple electronic appliances, all rest. Quantum mechanics represents the cornerstone of modern society, but it also encompasses possibilities for its future evolution. So, what is it? As an overarching term, “quantum technology” is used to describe the mechanics based or realized on physical systems that follow the laws of quantum physics developed in the early 20th century to study atoms and elementary particles.
The discipline was brought a step forward in the 1980s, when Paul Benioff, Richard Feynman, and Yuri Manin proposed something known as quantum computing: essentially, a device based on laws of quantum physics capable of simulating quantum dynamics and possibly solving complex mathematical problems.
As one of the oldest operating IT companies and the world’s sixth-largest IT services provider, Fujitsu is one of the leading players committed to the research and development of quantum computing as a next-generation technology. For example, starting this year, Fujitsu is the first Japanese company to make quantum computers available for research projects studying medicines, materials, and financial forecasting.
In March 2023, the company announced the development of a new, highly efficient, analog rotation quantum computing architecture with quantum error correction, representing a significant milestone toward the realization of practical quantum computing.
Fujitsu’s efforts cover all technical areas, from quantum devices to platform software and applications in the quantum gate system, with the aim of harnessing the power of quantum computing technology to help resolve various problems facing society, thus continuing to advance Benioff, Feynman, and Manin’s work.
Several other information-processing fields can be positively impacted by quantum technology. For instance, in communications and networks, we can leverage quantum mechanics to reliably and securely transmit data by representing them in the form of quantum bits. Also known as “qubits,” these represent the quantum analog of classical bits taking values either 0 or 1. The laws of quantum physics allow these qubits to evolve and exhibit peculiar behavior that is otherwise not observed when classical bits are processed.
The paradigms of quantum technology in their wholeness are driving new discoveries in health care, energy, environmental systems, agriculture, logistics, cybersecurity, finance, manufacturing, smart materials, and beyond. Harnessing these peculiarities to our advantage leads to a rich collection of applications in diverse fields.
Quantum computing is seen as a revolutionary change in computational paradigm, and it is evolving quickly. We are currently at an inflection point, with the quantum ecosystem continuing to grow and various institutions devoting their resources to the advancement of this field.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Once it is realized, we may enter a new era of computing—and we may be getting close. In March 2022, Fujitsu achieved a major technical milestone with the successful development of the world’s fastest 36-qubit quantum simulator, which harnesses the same CPU at the heart of the world’s fastest supercomputer.
And just last week, scientists at IBM made public that they have achieved a “big breakthrough … toward making quantum computers as practical as conventional ones, or even more so.” Jay Gambetta, an IBM fellow and vice president of IBM Quantum Research, agrees that we are entering a “new phase” in our understanding of the discipline, which he calls the “era of utility.”
That’s because quantum computing, once realized in its full potential, will change everything.
The most widely accepted, promising applications of quantum computers are in industrial sectors, where we inherently need to perform quantum chemistry calculations, as it follows that harnessing the power of quantum computers would allow us to dramatically speed up the calculations. Such calculations are a huge computational bottleneck for our classical devices, and we expect that quantum devices will fare significantly better than their classical counterparts.
We also expect that quantum computers will positively impact the financial sector through deeper analytics and financial modelling, as well as faster trading capabilities,boosting transactions and data speed while lowering processing costs. For example, new algorithms using quantum computing have recently been developed and demonstrated for predicting prices of financial products and economic trends. This will also be true of the cybersecurity sector, such as in the application of quantum cryptography, which enables encryption technologies that do not rely on intractability assumptions of certain mathematical problems.
Quantum computers can also be used to improve upon several forms of optimization processes across industrial verticals: Given the complexities and variables at hand, the optimization of supply chains and logistical processes is predicted to see a huge benefit from the use of quantum technologies. Finally, other avenues of applications come from quantum metrology and sensing, national security and military use, and of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The current list of applications is heavily influenced by limitations of classical devices; however, as the very idea behind quantum computing is still relatively nascent, we believe that there may be untold and unforeseen applications of quantum technologies yet to be found, as will continue to be the case while exploration continues. Both practical and theoretical research is currently underway, and many further developments and breakthroughs can be expected in the future.
QUANTUM COMPUTING’S POTENTIAL—AND SOME CHALLENGES
At Fujitsu Quantum : Fujitsu Global, our focus is on enabling research and development of quantum computing, which we do through various academic and industrial collaborations. These collaborations are done with our three major research centers located in India, Japan, and the U.S.
At Fujitsu Research, Japan, we work on all the technology layers of quantum computing, including quantum applications, quantum algorithms, error correction and mitigation technologies, quantum platforms, and quantum hardware. We also have Fujitsu Research of India Private Limited that focuses on quantum software and joint R&D with leading Indian universities.
At Fujitsu Research of America, our research focuses on near-term and long-term algorithmic applications of quantum computing in different fields such as data analysis and machine learning, optimization, and finance. We strive toward designing quantum algorithms that provide provable advantages over classical techniques in terms of computational resources as well as the interconnection between quantum information and other research areas.
Of course, it’s not all rosy—science simply doesn’t work like that. There’s a plethora of challenges currently associated with the use and application of quantum technology, and they are not child’s play.
Their nature essentially depends on the technological paradigm, and it follows that their solution is conditional on such a paradigm’s criteria, model, and unique characteristics. For communication tasks, for example, the reliable transfer of quantum data from source to destination, or within a complex network of devices, is of paramount importance. If we talk about computational tasks, fault tolerance and efficient error-correction schemes are the biggest technological hurdles that need to be solved.
It doesn’t stop here: Several other challenges are equally important and cannot be overlooked. Questions such as what is the best medium to physically realize a quantum computing device? And once you’ve answered that, what is the most effective way to scale it? What error-correction schemes could you use? What standards and protocols should you follow?
Scalability, error correction, benchmarking, and data transference; development of standard and protocols, but also that of hardware and software that can effectively utilize the power of quantum computers—all of this and more is what remains daunting in the field of quantum technology.
At Fujitsu, we are promoting research and development in all technology layers, from quantum devices to basic software and applications, while globally collaborating with world-leading research institutions on hardware. Private companies and government agencies alike are rising to the challenge and investing in the groundbreaking research and exploration of the field that will likely change the world as we know it.
Anyone who dives into the world of quantum computing understands that it represents a revolutionary technology with exceptional potential. What remains up to us is where to take it, how to apply its power, and how to make the scientific greats of the 1927 Solvay Conference proud.
Sarvagya Upadhyay is currently a Principal Researcher at Fujitsu Research of America (FRA), Inc. He is a part of Fujitsu Research’s global quantum laboratory. As a research member, Sarvagya focuses on applications of quantum computing in various disciplines of computer science and mathematics including machine learning, optimization, and finance.