The next giant leap forward in the computing world is expected to be quantum computing, which will have a profound effect on society.
One major reason is the computational capability which will eclipse the computational capabilities of existing systems by a significant margin – as per an estimate, the first true quantum computer can have a computational power which is a million times more than all the existing computers combined. Those countries that will take a lead in quantum computing will certainly get an edge in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), scientific research and advancement in their military technology.
The US, EU and China are investing heavily in R&D on quantum computing in a race to achieve Quantum Supremacy, which is termed as the world’s most important technological race due to its implications on economy and military technology.
China is considered to be neck and neck with the US and has already demonstrated quantum communications by using entangled particles to transmit information instantly and securely over 1,213 km between Beijing and Shanghai. On the other hand, Google’s quantum computer was reportedly able to solve a calculation, proving the randomness of numbers produced by a random number generator in 3 minutes and 20 seconds that would take the world’s fastest traditional supercomputer, the Summit, around 10,000 years.
The Chinese government has shown a strong intention to prioritize and invest in R&D related to quantum computing by allocating resources to establish a $10 billion facility for the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in Hefei, spread over an area of 330 hectares, which is due to open in 2020. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese government spends at least $2.5 billion a year on quantum research – more than 10 times what the US spends. In the private sector, Ali Baba announced a $15 billion fund for R&D in foundational and disruptive technology including quantum computing. This clearly shows the strong inclination of both the government and the private sector to keep pace with the advancement in quantum computing.
With quantum computers, technology will change significantly. The speed at which research is done will change. It will also have significant implications on defence and military technology. A quantum computer will easily be able to break the most advanced cryptography which is in existence today in a matter of seconds. That will leave many online encrypted systems and communications vulnerable unless those are also shifted to quantum cryptography and quantum communications. This also means that blockchain technology will also have to evolve into quantum blockchains to remain secure in the era of quantum computing.
In Pakistan, there is a dire need to create a critical mass of experts in this area and we need to make it a national priority. Centers of excellence in areas like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics etc have already been established. Unfortunately, they are not driven by a single national agenda. It is imperative that a similar center of excellence is established on quantum computing. To make it effective, it needs to form strong collaborative linkages internationally and locally with the rest of the centers of excellence.
The era of quantum computing could propel scientific and technological advancement to a whole new level with a myriad of exciting possibilities never thought of before. At a strategic level, achieving quantum supremacy will enable us to better secure our cyber assets which could otherwise be left vulnerable if our known persistent adversaries achieve it before us.
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