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5 of the coolest things we heard about the future of technology at Moscow's quantum tech summit

August 06,2017 19:11

At the edge of contemporary science, a new era of technology is on the verge of bringing the future into the present. Today's gadgets and electronics are beginning to bump against the ceiling of what is possible under classical technology, so ...and more »

Dylan Love
At the edge of contemporary science, a new era of technology is on the verge of bringing the future into the present.
Today’s gadgets and electronics are beginning to bump against the ceiling of what is possible under classical technology, so scientists and engineers are turning to quantum physics to bring our sci-fi dreams into reality.
"Quantum physics is in the process of unlocking the next generation of killer technology,” says Alexey Fedorov, research fellow at the Russian Quantum Center. “It's going to change cybersecurity, material science, AI research, and metrology."
The International Conference on Quantum Technologies, the RQC’s biennial advocacy event, is the premier place for scientists to present their work and discuss applications of their research. And as we begin to hit the ceiling of what classical technology is capable of, it’s only by shifting the attention to the kooky quantum world that we can explore practical science in a more future-friendly way.
For one week in Moscow, the ICQT makes the people doing this research the stars of the show. Here are the five coolest things we heard at the fourth International Conference on Quantum Technologies: 

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A universal quantum computer is closer to reality than ever before.

Mikhail Lukin is a professor at Harvard UniversityYouTube
The white whale of quantum technology is undoubtedly the quantum computer, first proposed in the early 1980s by celebrated physicist Richard Feynman. Various efforts are underway by research and business interests around the world to build such a device, which would use quantum states to solve problems that are either impossible or prohibitively inefficient for classical computers to solve. Right now, the star of the show is surely the work being done at Harvard University under Mikhail Lukin.
Lukin and team have built a quantum computer that harnesses 51 quantum bits to run its calculations, making it the most powerful quantum computer in existence. Most of today’s quantum computers are best-likened to jolty, primitive airplanes from 19th-century newsreel footage — they’re far from perfect. But Lukin’s team has built a quantum computer that’s like “a plane that can take off, turn smoothly, and land,” says Serguei Beloussov, co-founder of the Russian Quantum Center.

Quantum technology could eventually be used to make phone calls to Mars.

NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
While Elon Musk publicly dreams about moon bases and Mars metropolises, there’s a fundamental problem in communicating with people that may move there. Depending on where Earth and Mars are in relation to each other in their orbit around the Sun, it can take between three and 22 minutes for radio signals (moving at the speed of light) to travel between the two bodies. Without a radical shift in communication paradigm, Mars-based internet is going to suck. But quantum technology could be harnessed to enable instantaneous interplanetary long-distance, without a delay.
Dr. Arkady Fedorov is a head of the Superconducting Quantum Devices Laboratory at the University of Queensland, and his research is concerned with using superconducting cubits as artificial atoms. Cubits are most famously used for information processing in quantum computing, but Fedorov’s instead interact with magnetic waves and can be controlled within certain parameters. If we want to harness this for instantaneous long-distance communication, he says the only missing ingredient is an adaptor that turns microwaves into optical light.
Such adapters are “a hot topic right now,” says Fedorov. “It is hard to turn microwaves into optical light because successful quantum operations require an efficiency close to 100%, but a number of groups have proposals on how to do it.” His research may one day be used to develop an interplanetary telephone.

Unbreakable codes are not only real, but they’re old news.
The “observer effect” holds that to observe a situation is to change it. This means that if you create a message by harnessing the quirks of the quantum world, you can send that message in such a way that it’s readable by everyone except your intended recipient. If a third party intercepts the message, they of course observe it and fundamentally change it, leaving your initial communication protected.
Quantum encryption technology lands somewhere between "Star Trek" and James Bond, but it’s a well-trod commercial pursuit of 16 years by the Switzerland-based ID Quantique. The company is approaching its two-decade anniversary in making and selling quantum communication hardware in use by research organizations and national governments alike.

Quantum technology might be the missing ingredient to improve machine learning and artificial intelligence.

AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
Meaningful applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning can require unprecedented computing power, and quantum computers may make this kind of severe number-crunching into something sustainable. Quantum particles don’t follow any of the physical laws that jibe with our common sense — they can appear and reappear in different locations without traveling the distance between, and can exist in a state of “superposition,” holding multiple values simultaneously.
Some theorize that quantum computers draw their computing power by running calculations in alternate universes. Now that’s one way to get around the roadblocks of classical technology.

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