While traditional physics explains the world in macroscopic terms, quantum mechanics goes beyond our experience, describing the events of the world at a scale of atoms and molecules. It can be a strange concept to fathom.
Starting with Max Planck’s finite energy packets ‘“Quanta” back in 1900 – Planck was eventually awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize for his work in the field – the topic has fascinated and frustrated scientists in equal measure. Often seemingly contradictory and paradoxical, quantum physicist Richard Feynman urged us “to accept nature as She is – absurd”.
Increasingly, we are seeing the term ‘quantum’ used in connection with a number of new technologies. Confusingly, not every use of the word depicts such a new quantum technology: Quantum Encryption, for instance, doesn’t require quantum physics to work but is simply classical algorithms resistant to attacks from a quantum computer. ‘Quantum Dots’ are actually colloids used in televisions because of their optical properties as artificial atoms – in fact the Cathedral of Chartres inherits its beautiful blue due to gold colloids – quantum dots within its glass.
When we talk about ‘Quantum somethings’, we mean that these are technologies that require fundamental quantum physical principles in their core functionality, or technologies that deal directly with these applications.
And while Quantum somethings may be rising to prominence now, it’s critical to realise that nearly every aspect of modern life – from IT to lights bulbs to the colours of a butterfly’s wings, to leaves of the trees around us –work because of quantum effects. Quantum physics are the foundations for our existence on this planet.
But, why has it become necessary now to expand our everyday lives with quantum questions? And why has a company like Atos started investing in it? Here is a (very) brief history…
Quantum Physics in Short
Although the concept of quantum physics has existed for over a hundred years, it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that the concept of a ‘universal quantum computer’ was first formalised. A device capable of quickly re-creating and arbitrary quantum state, obsoleting the need for tiresome and complicated experimental set-ups. It was followed by its theoretical formulation in the 1970s.
It wasn’t until 1994, when Peter Shor published a landmark article on the factorizing of large numbers, that people realized that useful work could be done with this universal quantum computer. Shor’s algorithm sparked the development boom of today’s range of practical quantum technologies.
In the years before the turn of the century, experiments were performed with the first quantum communication systems, quantum computing systems and quantum sensors. At the same time, the US Department of Defence opened its first quantum workshop. Progress has been swift and in the last five years we’ve seen many European nations – including the UK and the Netherlands – launch their own national quantum technologies programs. This has also prompted several private sector organizations to join the race – including Atos.
Atos’ first involvement with quantum technologies came in 2010, when it worked to connect two Dutch datacenters using quantum key distribution technologies. Aiming to guarantee a secure transfer of data,Quantum Communication technologies are the first to ‘mature’, and have already sparked several successful companies.
Making Quantum Computing Accessible
Furthermore, the IBM Experience has helped widen the appeal of ‘Quantum somethings’. By making one of its quantum computers available to the public, IBM has helped to promote quantum technologies on a global scale. In China country-spanning QKD networks have been created, including quantum satellites to ensure safe communication. Meanwhile, European academics and politicians prepared the ‘Quantum Manifesto’ – a move which led to the launch of a €1bn Quantum Flagship Project within the European Union.
Today, there is huge demand for skilled workers, as well as active technological development in the area. Organizations cannot stand on the side-lines, understanding its potential to improve their core business and safeguard their future.
In November 2016, we launched Atos Quantum, the first quantum computing industry program in Europe. We will be responsible for the development and marketing of solutions for quantum computing, as well as quantum safe cyber security products. It’s an exciting project, and something that will be increasingly important to the IT landscape of the future.
Over the next few months I will be sharing more insights into the (seemingly) strange world of Quantum Computing. Looking at everything from Quantum Hardware to Software and Quantum Sensing, the topic will inform, dazzle, and give you the tools you need to discuss the potential of Quantum somethings with confidence.