Global advantage through high-performance quantum computing
Quantum computers have the potential to provide a game-changing boost for science. For maximum benefit to society, quantum computers will need to merge with traditional high-performance computing. Here, international collaboration is of key importance for bringing the required expertise and know-how together.
From idea to advantage
It took forty years for quantum computers to mature from idea to the first commercial products. The decades of basic research that has led to this point is marked by international collaboration across nations and continents. It is crucial to recognise that despite soaring interest and investments from the commercial sector, quantum computing is still in its infancy. In order to become a disruptive technology, years of sustained basic research still lies ahead.
The projected power of quantum computers for certain computational tasks is something that has to be taken seriously. One aspect is the threat that sufficiently mature quantum computers pose to digital encryption. A much more intriguing outlook is the capacity for quantum computing to boost high-performance computing (HPC).
Traditional supercomputers are immensely powerful. The advances in supercomputing has been so steady, that one easily gets blinded by the progress. This year witnessed the leap to exascale computing with the first system breaking the barrier of performing 1018 floating-point operations per second. This is one million times the capacity of the fastest supercomputer 25 years ago; problems a million times more complex can now be solved. Fascinating. Still, there is a range of computational problems that will forever stay intractable for supercomputers. Unless they merge with quantum computers, that is.
Quantum-accelerated HPC is the key to unlocking simulations of revolutionary complexity. This is due to the incredible power contained in the quantum bits, qubits, the basic quantum information unit. Each additional perfect qubit doubles the power of a quantum computer. To increase the problem size by that factor of a million, in the quantum world, we just need a modestly-sounding twenty additional ideal qubits.
Why HPC then?
Quantum computers are not a substitute for binary computers. They excel at some tasks, but perform poorly for many others. It is by identifying time-consuming tasks that are suited for quantum computing, and injecting them into HPC workflows, that grand-challenge problems can be tackled. As a prime example, digital twins, replicas of Earth, are now being conceived on the most powerful supercomputers. Present plans include creating digital counterparts of, e.g., the weather system, oceans, and biodiversity, in order to guide human behaviour. Ultimately, the goal is to combine the different models into one large interconnected system, dramatically increasing complexity. For this, merging quantum computing with HPC can be decisive.
Green quantum advantage
Exponential quantum speed-up is still, admittedly, at least a decade off. In the near-term, another type of quantum advantage is even more relevant, however. For a given problem, quantum computers use a mere fraction of the energy compared to classical devices. Quantum computers do not have to provide answers faster than classical computers: getting the answers using less energy will have an immediate, positive global impact. The most power-hungry applications running on supercomputers are those related to electronic structure theory (think more efficient batteries and pharmaceuticals) and artificial intelligence. Coincidentally, these are also problems that are highly suitable for quantum computers!
Technology protectionism in a too early stage would inevitably delay the onset of quantum advantage, vital to society. Only by collaborating openly, pooling resources across the globe, can we find solutions to the most pressing problems. This requires that we as a global community share our know-how as freely as possible, in order to promptly usher in the quantum age.
Future of Compute Week 2022
During this week we will deep-dive into a number of themes that if addressed could develop our large scale compute infrastructure to support the UK’s ambitions as a science and technology superpower. To find out more, including how to get involved, click the link below
CSC – IT Center for Science Ltd. is a Finnish centre of expertise in ICT that provides world-class services for research, education, culture, public administration, and enterprises, to help them thrive and benefit society at large. CSC hosts the pan-European supercomputer LUMI in its green, carbon-negative data centre in Kajaani, Finland. LUMI, Europe’s most powerful supercomputer, has already been integrated with quantum computers in both Finland and Sweden, and will shortly integrate several more.
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.
During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.
Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.
Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.