Across the globe, you will find that quantum computing has long been a battleground among technology giants. The reason is simple: this technology will provide an explosive computing power that could usher mankind into a new computational revolution.
But what is the real significance of such powerful computing? It is widely believed in the industry that the hottest technologies of today, AI and machine learning, will benefit the most from quantum computing.
Although there are many wild speculations on the potential of quantum computing, the challenges of its implementation are very real. Research into quantum computing faces many challenges, particularly the question of its potential to be commercialized.
In October 2017, Alibaba Group announced its new DAMO Academy for fundamental and disruptive technology research at Alibaba Cloud’s Computing Conference 2017 in Hangzhou. The company will invest US$15 billion into the project, featuring a dozen top-notch international scientists working in quantum computing, machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, cybersecurity, human-computer interaction, fintech, IoT, hardware, and more.
Dr. Shi Yaoyun is Alibaba Cloud’s chief quantum technology scientist. He believes that the most challenging task for quantum computing is how to scale it up. Currently, no existing technology can achieve large-scale application while allowing for high-quality quantum storage and operations. The truth is, he admitted, even if quantum computing was successfully commercialized, this would not eliminate the conventional computer. Dr. Shi and his team are responsible for putting quantum computing in action. He revealed they are currently planning to enhance cooperation with hardware partners, develop software tools and quantum algorithms, and explore new applications.
In his view, there are two mainstream opinions about the future applications of quantum computing. Some people believe that it be possible for the technology to simulate quantum systems in fields such as materials science, quantum chemistry, and pharmaceutical development by using large volumes of computing resources. Others think it will help modern Internet companies with the computing tasks they need to perform. For example, they could use machine learning algorithms based on quantum hardware to accelerate machine learning, improve the algorithms used, and increase optimization performance.
Dr. Shi believes that the birth of quantum computing will have a profound impact on cryptographic systems. For example, the widely used public key cryptography systems will be gradually replaced by systems that cannot be cracked by quantum computers, which are referred to as “post-quantum cryptography” in the industry.
The following is the transcript of the Yunqi Community’s interview with Dr. Shi:
What are the challenges in commercializing quantum computers?
“There are many challenges, but the first one is how to scale up the technology. Currently, no existing technology can achieve large-scale application while allowing for high-quality storage and operations. In addition, implementation of quantum computing is a massive systematic project, involving technologies and capabilities from a large number of fields. The overall industry is not yet complete and the talent resources are scarce.”
“For example, I need to construct traditional software to assist in the design of quantum hardware. Ideally, we would want to hire some top-notch software engineers with ample knowledge of quantum computing. However, it is rare to find these skills in the same individual. In the end, we have to find software engineers and teach them quantum computing, or find quantum scientists and turn them into software engineers. This means that we need people with strong learning abilities.”
What are the current focuses of your research?
“Our long-term goal is to realize the potential of quantum information technology and provide solutions based on this technology. Here, the key words are ‘realize’ and ‘solutions’. In the near future, we plan to enhance cooperation with hardware partners, develop software tools and quantum algorithms, and discover new applications. I think we have a bright future ahead of us, but it is still a long journey.”
Quantum Computing at the application level
“There are some mainstream opinions in the industry about the major potential applications of quantum computing. Basically, there are two types of applications.
“The first one is simulation of quantum systems in fields such as materials science, quantum chemistry, and pharmaceutical development using large volumes of computing resources. Second, it will help modern Internet companies with the computing tasks they need to perform.”
For example, they could use machine learning algorithms based on quantum hardware to accelerate machine learning, improve the algorithms used, and increase optimization performance.”
“I should stress that a great deal of work remains to be done before we can get a clear picture of these applications. Ultimately, the power of quantum computers needs to be verified on real machines. In my experience, we should take nothing for granted. We need to hold on to bold assumptions, while also carefully verifying the underlying principles.”
What future changes can be predicted in the quantum computing field?
“I think that there may be more developments in the hardware perspective. Many companies and research institutions have been forging ahead along the current technology paths until they all hit the same bottlenecks, awaiting some new breakthrough. For software, many institutions have similar systems with almost identical performance.”
“However, the next breakthrough will come at the theoretical or conceptual level. This is why, my goal for building a team focuses on recruiting the best-of-breed talents, in addition to ensuring that everyone on the team can ultimately meet our requirements.”
Which industries will embrace the quantum revolution first?
“Previously, I mentioned two areas where computing may lead to major changes: the simulation of quantum systems and the acceleration and improvement of important computing tasks (I should stress that I am only saying there is a possibility). It would be a little far-fetched to say that the traditional computer would be completely eliminated. We can be certain that both types of computers will coexist in the future. They will become two approaches to the same problem, with advantages and disadvantages respectively.”
“However, I did not previously mention the effect quantum computing will have on cryptographic systems. After the advent of large-scale quantum computers, the widely-used public key cryptographic systems will no longer be secure. Therefore, we can be certain that these systems will gradually be replaced by systems that cannot be cracked by quantum computers. This is the so-called ‘post-quantum cryptography’. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology is currently collecting protocol candidates for such a future. Thus, quantum computing is already overturning public key cryptography today, even though large-scale quantum computers are still far away from us.”
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Reference: Yunqi Community