While the theory has existed for decades and software and algorithms are being developed to take advantage of it, the hardware that will constitute the world’s first full-power quantum computer has yet to appear.
But UK engineers are leading the world in the battle to build it, according to NQIT — the Quantum Computing Technology Hub at Oxford university. NQIT evangelist Rupesh Srivastava told us at a House of Commons briefing today that the government-backed hub aimed to be a trusted source globally, which would not overhype quantum computing.
He then immediately contradicted himself, saying: “NQIT has embarked on a grand adventure of science and engineering hitherto unprecedented in human history to build a new type of computer that one day can change the world.”
A quantum computer would vastly outperform the calculations possible in today’s binary-based supercomputers, with its “qubits” that have a temporary state called “superposition”, where they can represent both the “1” and the “0” of bits. IBM showed off an underpowered machine of 20 qubits in January that could only maintain its quantum state or “coherence” for 75 microseconds. Canada’s D-Wave Systems (pictured above) also produces limited commercial machines.
Dr Srivastava explained the various methods being worked on to maintain the quantum state ranging from Microsoft’s nano wires to Oxford Ionics’ ion-traps to superconducting electrical circuits pursued by IBM, Google, Intel, Alibaba and Oxford Quantum Circuits. Chairman of the latter, Andrew Mackintosh, compared the Oxford university spinout to Oxford Instruments, an earlier one that he led and which developed the MRI body scanner. The opportunity was there to create a Quantum Valley because of the depth of expertise in the Oxford area, he said.
Yet his company is currently in its infancy and trying to raise funds, quantum computing is at the acorn stage, admitted Dr Srivastava, and US tech companies have the deeper pockets for research and hiring the best British talent.
#techFT takeaway: Quantum computing has the capability in theory to figure out how we feed the planet and prevent climate change. But the big breakthrough of manufacturing one that can surpass supercomputers is still five to 10 years away and the UK’s apparent lead in talent and ideas is at risk of being swallowed up by big-spending tech companies.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. Huawei’s suppliers get a three-month reprieve
This won’t help the Chinese company much, but the Trump administration, after earlier forcing a ban on supplying Huawei, last night issued a licence that takes the pressure off US companies, such as Google, who can now keep doing business with it for three months. Louise Lucas in Hong Kong explains the implications: three months will not be enough for Huawei to reconfigure its supply chain and there is no precedent for any extension. The FT view is that the US move is a miscalculation that could lead to China developing a fully independent supply chain.
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2. Next on the US hit list — drones
The US Department of Homeland Security has taken aim at Chinese drone manufacturerssuch as DJI in a warning about potential data leaks, expanding the scrutiny by US authorities of the country’s tech industry. The memo warns American businesses about the hazards of using drones manufactured or sold by companies “operating under the control or influence of a foreign authoritarian state”, since the camera- and sensor-laden devices are “capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them”.
3. What’s cooking in cloud kitchens
Tim Bradshaw has been visiting the kitchens that only serve delivery customers, known as “cloud”, “ghost” or “dark” kitchens. They use a combination of advanced food preparation, underused real estate and algorithm-driven optimisation to lower overheads and increase output. “I’m fairly convinced that 20 years from now, we will mostly not make our own food,” says one venture capitalist backing them. VC veteran Michael Moritz, in an FT opinion piece, says Amazon’s latest involvement, in backing Deliveroo, should be enough to give any restaurateur heartburn.
4. The car of the future may move slower
Self-driving electric vehicles may not ease traffic jams, writes transportation expert David Metz, in an Alphaville opinion piece. “Interventions intended to reduce congestion, such as vehicle sharing, initially free up road space and reduce delays, this attracts previously suppressed trips, restoring congestion to what it had been.”
5 . . . . but will the post be delivered faster?
The United States Postal Service began putting some of its mail on self-driving trucks from today. Letters and packages moving between Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas will travel on customised trucks run by TuSimple, an autonomous start-up based in San Diego. (Bloomberg)
Tech tools — Huawei’s Honor 20
The timing could have been better, but the latest phones in Huawei’s budget Honor range were unveiled at an event in Battersea, London on Tuesday. The Verge says the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro are its new mid-range flagship phones, featuring its own Kirin 980 processor, quad rear cameras, and side-mounted fingerprint scanners, all fronted by a large 6.26in display. “Available soon”, the Honor 20 Pro will retail for €599, while the Honor 20 will be slightly cheaper at €499 or £399 in the UK.
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