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Beyond the Future of Quantum Technology


Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:00


We may not be able to fully grasp the possibilities of quantum technology today, but active efforts to raise awareness and invest into the field will propel quantum innovation and adoption to the next level.


One of the most common questions posed to Prof Artur Ekert, Founding Director of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is: What is the future of quantum technology?

To answer this question, Prof Ekert gives an analogy. Imagine asking Charles Babbage, a famous mathematician, philosopher, mechanical engineer in the 1800s and the man behind the first classical programmable computer what his invention can offer. He would probably say that it would be good for tabulating mathematical tables. Would he even consider the idea of the Internet, word processors, and all the technology innovations that we take for granted today? Absolutely not.

While quantum technology is still an emerging technology, governments and tech companies around the world are increasingly making big bets on it.

On 7 June, SGInnovate and CQT inked a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) to promote quantum technologies and facilitate the commercialisation of quantum innovations in Singapore – a first in Singapore. The two-year collaboration will see both organisations encouraging and helping local researchers working on quantum technologies to translate their work into scalable industry solutions. Both parties will also share their respective industry and academic networks to create more commercialisation opportunities for various quantum innovations, and host joint events to drive outreach activities.

Following the signing, the Towards a Future Quantum Economy panel discussion was held where a team of experts shared their thoughts on the potential of a world run by quantum technologies. Moderated by Mr Steve Leonard, Founding CEO of SGInnovate, the panel comprised Prof Artur Ekert, Founding Director, CQT; Mr Chune Yang Lum, Co-founder and CEO, SpeQtral; and Mr Runyao Duan, Director, Institute for Quantum Computing at Baidu Research.

Quantum Technology in Action

Today, there is a wide range of quantum technologies in development, including quantum computers, simulators, communication devices, random number generators and sensors. These are all based on quantum phenomena – the ways that particles of matter and light behave and interact with each other – to perform operations that are faster, more precise, secure or efficient than possible by other means.

According to Mr Lum, two of the most fascinating use cases for quantum technology lie in quantum key distribution (QKD) and quantum sensors.

While current public-key cryptography protocols for secure data transmission are rooted in inherently breakable mathematical algorithms, quantum key distribution is essentially a method of transferring information that is encoded in the fundamental properties of quantum mechanics between two entities.

“Keys delivered this way are tamper-proof because if somebody tries to read the keys, we will be able to know by the properties of quantum mechanics. No progress in classical computing or quantum computing would be able to break these encryption schemes,” said Mr Lum.

And that is just what his company, SpeQtral, a spin-off from CQT, sets out to achieve. SpeQtral aims to enable the next generation of secure communication networks by developing and deploying space-based quantum networks for the global delivery of secure encryption keys. Harnessing QKD technology, SpeQtral secures existing communications networks with an additional, quantum-secured, encrypted layer, keeping malicious actors and eavesdroppers at bay.

As for quantum sensors, the technology can help us “see” what’s underground, detect diseases earlier, sense seismic or volcanic activity and even track submarines accurately. Atomionics, the latest quantum startup investment by SGInnovate, specialises in this area – building atom-interferometry-based sensing systems for navigation and exploration that will work reliably and accurately everywhere, including underwater, underground and other GPS-denied areas. For example, Atomionics exploration systems could enable precise pinpointing of hydrocarbon and mineral reserves.

While the panellists are bullish about the potential of quantum technology, they remain conscious of the lack of awareness among the general public and investors about this nascent technology.

“The most urgent thing we need to do is to provide education, to help people accept this technology and understand what quantum researchers are doing. Only when they understand will we get their support,” said Mr Duan.

Echoing similar sentiments, Mr Lum shared that despite quantum science being around for the past two hundred years and the progress achieved, there needs to be more education to help people learn about the ‘wow moments’ of quantum technology. This will help garner stronger interest and excitement from the masses.

Quantum technology is still maturing, and there are countless new use cases waiting to be discovered. Referring back to the analogy on Charles Babbage:

It’s beyond our imagination so we just have to go step-by-step. We are this generation that is offering quantum tools to people out there, and I think that it will be the next generation that will take these tools, understand them better and do something interesting with it.

Prof Ekert

Where is the Money? Wait for It…

Pointing to a fundamental difference in culture between scientists and investors, Prof Ekert shared that while typical investors are focused on a ‘five-year horizon’ and the prospect of cashing out on the product, scientists are curiosity-driven and intrinsically motivated to discover new phenomena, which could take years and years of research.

Thus, investors looking to make a quick buck might want to look elsewhere. Instead, it might be more useful to consider looking into industries that stand to benefit from quantum technology.

“It is unlikely that in five years’ time, you will have a quantum computer that will be making money for you. But you will have security systems that are based on quantum physics, so if you want to invest, look into the crypto sector,” said Prof Ekert.

Using a sports analogy of ‘going to where the ball is likely to be’, Mr Leonard highlighted that if a particular technology area is likely going to mature, SGInnovate would want to be a part of it.

“From an SGInnovate perspective, that’s the whole reason we exist. It is true that these things are still a challenge, but we are here to explore and find those opportunities where we can to build awareness and momentum,” concluded Mr Leonard.

Quantum technology is one of SGInnovate’s focus areas as we believe in its potential to transform economies. Be part of our future Quantum Computing discussions.

SpeQtral and Atomionics are two of our latest quantum investments.


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