With more and more waking up to its burgeoning potential, the race for quantum computing is heating up. The US reportedly invests an estimated $200 million annually in quantum research, while China is building a US$10 billion research centre for quantum applications. Now Japan has set aside more than $270 million in a 10-year research plan to make the nation a leading centre for quantum research and development.
Major Japanese tech players are following suit and committing to the new technology. In November 2017, the NTT and University of Tokyo launched their first quantum computer prototype and claimed they are building a cloud system to house their ‘quantum neural network’ technology. And according to recent financial reports in Asia, Japanese electronics companies, Fujitsu and NEC have their eyes set on developing commercial quantum computers. The objective of these organisations is to bring practical applications to the marketplace over the next 5 years.
Why Quantum Computers?
Quantum computers take advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time. They use quantum bits (or ‘qubits’) that can hold values of 1, 0, or both, simultaneously. In this way, a qubit can be thought of like an imaginary sphere. Whereas a classical bit can be in two states – at either of the two poles of the sphere – a qubit can be any point on the sphere. This means a computer using these bits can store a huge amount more information using less energy than a classical computer.
The Quantum Computer prototype unveiled by the NTT and University of Tokyo can theoretically make complex calculations 100 times faster than even a conventional supercomputer. Researchers say that this computer uses just 1 kilowatt of power – about what is required by a large microwave oven – for every 10,000 kilowatts consumed by a supercomputer.
The extraordinary capacity of these computers could be a launchpad for a variety of disciplines and industries. Within airspace and aviation, for example, Airbus claim that quantum computers would be capable of simulating the interaction of individual atoms of air with the surface of an aircraft wing or a complete aircraft, making the design of advanced aircrafts, satellites and other vehicles much, much faster.
Fujitsu Quantum Strategy
Fujitsu is a leading Japanese information and communication technology (ICT) company that provides a range of technology products, solutions and services around the world. This week they announced new plans outlining their quantum strategy over the next 5 years. Fujitsu claim they will invest 50 billion yen ($451 million) to develop technology related to quantum computing by fiscal 2020. This will involve sending employees to study basic research at the University of Toronto, a leading centre of research in the field.
Shigeru Sasaki, CEO of Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd summed up the focus on quantum: “Quantum computing will power disruptive new applications in a range of industries from material sciences to financial services and medicine. “With our innovative technologies spanning from semiconductors to super computers, Fujitsu laboratories will be at the forefront of this quantum leap”.
Fujitsu Fellow, Joseph Reger provides insights into the implications and direction of Quantum Computing (November 2017)
Partnership with 1QB for Quantum Inspired AI
Fujitsu’s strategy also included plans to collaborate with Canadian company 1QB Information to apply quantum-inspired technology to the field of AI. Both companies will work together in both the Japanese and global markets to develop applications which address industry problems using AI developed for use with quantum computers.
Andrew Fursman, CEO of 1QBit reflected, “we have reviewed many different hardware architectures, and we are very excited about applying our software to the technology developed by Fujitsu. Together, 1QBit’s software applications and Fujitsu’s digital annealing technology we have the capabilities necessary to solve difficult optimization problems and advance the field of machine learning.”
The company’s research and software development teams have focused on solving sampling, optimization, and machine learning problems to improve applications in industries including finance, energy, advanced materials, and the life sciences. The combination of Fujitsu’s cutting-edge computer architecture and hardware technology, and 1QBit’s software technology, will enable advances in machine learning to solve complicated, large-scale optimization problems.
NEC is another company pursuing an approach known as “quantum anealing,” in which the technology can be used to determine the optimal answer to a problem from a huge array of choices. The company plans to build the basic circuitry that will serve as the “brains” of related devices in the coming fiscal year beginning in April, investing tens of millions of dollars over the five years through fiscal 2023, a date when a commercial product could be offered.
Canadian company D-Wave Systems already uses the approach in its products that feature around 2,000 qubits, but NEC thinks it can improve the computational capability at the same level of capacity. The Japanese company also aims to work with both the private and public sectors as well as academia to develop 10,000-qubit products within a decade.
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