There are a huge number of research centres and universities worldwide working in the most extraordinary area of technology. Many predict quantum computing could transform everything from artificial intelligence, cyber security, genomics, life sciences, finance, clean energy and manufacturing. Governments are now investing more in the field and most of the leading technology companies all have active programs including IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel.
On the industry side, Atos is both the largest company in Europe investing in quantum computing and also the only company in the world providing a commercially available quantum simulator on the market – the Atos Quantum Learning Machine (Atos QLM). Moreover, earlier this week Atos announced a world-first in the field – the Atos QLM can now simulate real qubits, making simulation more realistic than ever before.
The Atos QLM is the highest-performing quantum simulator in the world. Designed by the ‘Atos Quantum’ laboratory, the first major quantum industry program in Europe, the Atos QLM combines an ultra-compact machine with a universal programming language. This makes it the most accessible quantum programming appliance on the market – and now the QLM is being provided to universities, research institutes and both large and small businesses around the world. In this exclusive interview we explore how the QLM is empowering a growing community with the tools to advance the quantum applications and algorithms of tomorrow.
This week Quantum Business spoke with Philippe Duluc, the Chief Technology Officer of Big data & Security at Atos. Philippe has worked both in the public and private sectors and has held various security and technology positions over the last twenty years. Today he is a ‘Distinguished Expert’, member of the Atos Scientific Community and has expertise in scientific and technical domains involved in information society development including: cyber defence, computing, communications, big data, and AI, including future directions in quantum computing.
Philippe spoke to us about why the world needs quantum computing and what the impact for industry will be over the next decade. He believes that now is the time to anticipate the opportunities and threats of quantum computing. For him the Atos QLM is enabling a new community to prepare for an extraordinary new phase for industrial innovation.
Why Does The World Need Quantum Computing?
We asked Philippe why there is a need for quantum computing moving into the 2020s and beyond. He points to the fact that we are now reaching the full capacity of the classical silicon interface and need new technological avenues to grow.
“Today classical computing transistor technologies have shrunk to 5nm. At 5nm we are nearing the level of the atom. We therefore will have difficulty continuing in this direction and giving increasing computing power to our customers.”
Moore’s Law has driven exponential gains in computing power for decades. It is the reason the latest smartphone is faster and better than the last. It why we now have a trillion dollar computing industry. Moore’s law is a technological trend that has seen the number of transistors in computing chips double every two years while costs halve.
However, many in the field foresee a technological slowdown on the horizon. If Moore’s Law was to continue through to 2050, ‘engineers will have to build transistors from components that are smaller than a single atom of hydrogen’. This will be increasingly expensive for technology companies as building fabrication plants for new chips costs billions. Philippe believes that quantum computing represents an ideal solution to accelerate some computing algorithms.
“In quantum computing we have certain algorithms that enable exponential speed up compared to classical computing. In quantum computing you can have operation in parallel.”
“Quantum computing uses two principles of quantum physics that enables exponential speed up in computational tasks,” Philippe explains. “The first is superposition where a quantum bit (qubit) can be two values at the same time. The second principle is entanglement – this states that pairs or groups of qubits can be superimposed and can have mathematical operations with each other in parallel. What is promising in the short to medium term is that certain algorithms have been able to prove exponential speed up, including the most famous and well known, Shor’s Algorithm.”
Atos Quantum Learning Machine (QLM)
The Atos Quantum Learning Machine (Atos QLM) is the highest-performing quantum simulator in the world. It is powered by an ultra-compact supercomputer and a universal programming language – aQasm (Atos QuantumAssembly Language). It can simulate up to 40 qubits, which was until now, only possible on large supercomputers – despite the fact that the Atos QLM has the physical dimensions of a simple business server.
“In our quantum computer you can derive three distinct parts”, Philippe reveals. “The first part is the hardware, which includes the qubits, the control board and the overall machinery. The second layer is the software which is very important – In order to use a quantum computer you have to programme it in order to command and control the hardware. The third layer is the applications. And without applications you have no customer or interest in the machine.”
“So you have three layers: hardware, software and applications. All three fit into the Atos QLM. The Atos QLM gives a leading advantage for both software and applications layers.”
Philippe reveals that the aim is to market the Atos QLM to public and private research centres and universities, as the preferred tool for learning, programming, optimising and testing quantum algorithms. “Within the next 5 years, we will have real applications demonstrating quantum supremacy. After this our objective is to deliver real quantum capacities to customers pioneering these applications, by coupling quantum hardware (from partners) to QLM used as programming interface.”
Atos Quantum Program
Atos launched “Atos Quantum”, the first quantum computing industry program in Europe. Philippe argues that the objective since its launch in November 2016 has been to anticipate the future of quantum computing to be prepared for both the opportunities and threats.
“Quantum Computing represents a double edged sword. On the one hand there are opportunities such as super fast algorithms for database search, progress in artificial intelligence, and the discovery of new pharmaceutical molecules. On the other hand there are risks, such as the collapse of asymmetric cryptography.”
“We started the programme two years ago and we’ve seen huge improvements in the technology and an evolution in our customer base. People want to understand what the opportunities and risks are with quantum and how it can impact operational activities of work.”
“For us there is an educational part to explain what the future will look like. QLM allows organisations to prepare. It enables you to actively work on algorithms to take it forward. In 2 years there have been major advancements in the technology and in the customers.”
Atos Quantum Ecosystem
“In terms of partners we are in a lot of discussions with various different academic labs and universities around the world. For example, we are working with the University of Innsbruck (in Austria) in the field of trapped ion qubits; In France we are partnering with the CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) in the field of superconducting qubits and spin in silicon qubits. We are also discussing with Sorbonne Universities (France) about optical qubits.”
“By having a variety of partnerships, we want to ensure that we have a fully comprehensive ecosystem/landscape of technologies.”
Cyber Security: A Double Edged Sword
Philippe believes quantum physics will lead to profound changes notably in cybersecurity – one of the key strategic priorities of businesses. “Quantum computing represents a double-edged sword – Within cyber security a future quantum computer would be able to destroy asymmetric cryptographic algorithms which secure the Internet, putting it at extreme risk – but quantum physics could also create their own unbreakable codes.”
“That is why at Atos, we have proposed some quantum-safe algorithms to the NIST 2017 call for standards, and we are already working to implement quantum-safe security algorithms, in our cybersecurity products – our encryptors and hardware security modules for defence”.
Quantum Computing Predictions
Philippe admits it is difficult to predict how far-reaching the impact of quantum computing will be in the future. However, he reveals the areas he expects to see the greatest transformation.
“Within the next decade, we foresee new possibilities in quantum chemistry (big molecules simulation for understanding chemical reactions), condensed matter study – including paramagnetic analysis for new materials development, combinatorial optimisation for industrial processes improvement and high energy physics and material science.”
“Over the next decade, we will see exciting progress in machine learning, finance optimisation (assets pricing), cybersecurity, and medicine. On the computing technology side, we will see convergence with HPC – with hybrid architectures, mixing CPU, GPU, FPGA and specialized QPU).”
Atos is a global leader in digital transformation with approximately 100000 employees in 73 countries and annual revenue of around € 13 billion.
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Article written by Hal Briggs from Quantum Business