200 seconds versus 10,000 years. Quantum computers versus classical computers. In 2019, Google reached a milestone in computing history and broke the speed records set up to that point. For the first time, a quantum machine was able to quickly solve a task that could not be solved with the best available digital technology.
The tech giant’s quantum processor, called Sycamore, took just over three minutes to mark the terrain. The so-called quantum supremacy broke with the paradigms of traditional classical computer science. “That was a first demonstration. Today we still have experimental quantum processors that can do very interesting things on a scientific level, but quantum computing remains an area of experimentation for now. To achieve a commercial or more practical impact, it is necessary to correct errors,” says Sergio Boixo, member of Google Quantum AI.
Transitioning from experimental projects to building an actual error-free quantum processor is a task that will take years. “The advantage is that they can do things that are impossible for normal computers,” explains physicist Adán Cabello. Classic prototypes are based on circuits (bits) that can be in two different situations, represented as 0 and 1.
In a quantum computer, things work completely differently. “The bits are now quantum bits (qubits). This implies an important innovation: they can be not only at 0 or 1, but also in a so-called superposition of 0 and 1: a state in which there is a certain probability of being at 0 and a certain probability of being at 1 “says Carlos Sabín, Ramón y Cajal researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM).
Quantum supremacy, yes. But with little real use at the moment and limited to very specific tasks. “Quantum computers are not advanced enough to take full advantage of their benefits. In fact, the advantage has only been demonstrated in academic problems and the use of very simple prototypes,” emphasizes quantum technologies expert Juan Ignacio Cirac.
Companies such as Google, IBM, AWS, AQT or IonQ continue to engage more intensively with this research, but the truth is that the great promises and expectations that this type of data processing generates are still far from being fulfilled. The prototypes are capable of cracking the most common encryption systems or simulating physical systems essential for the production of new materials and medicines. However, it remains to be seen whether the same models can be used in other applications with the same success. “These are very expensive and demanding experiments that are not affordable for all laboratories and companies and for which only a small group of countries currently have demonstrable capacity,” adds Juan José García Ripoll, scientific researcher at the Institute of Fundamental Physics , added. IFF CSIC.
What factors have prevented the consolidation of this technology? Building a quantum computer is a process of great technological and scientific complexity, which also requires very advanced engineering. Eliminating errors in such devices is the major challenge for researchers. “We have developed error reduction techniques that can eliminate errors from the results of a calculation. “Nonetheless, noise will continue to be a factor until we have fully error-corrected quantum computers,” says Juan Bernabé-Moreno, director at IBM Research Europe, Ireland and the UK.
Although the size of this market is relatively small today (it will be worth $866 million at the end of 2023), the consulting firm MarketSandsMarket estimates its potential to be more than $4.3 billion in 2028. A promising technology that is still shaping our lives The future will change the development phase.
Experts agree that it is very difficult to estimate the impact that quantum computing will have in the future. “And it is even more difficult to set a specific time frame. First of all, the current interest and investments of large companies and governments must be maintained,” concludes researcher Carlos Sabín.
60 million investment for the first in southern Europe
EU support. The ambitious Quantum Spain project is financed with European funds from the economic recovery plan and will enable the creation of the country’s first quantum computing ecosystem. Startups such as Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech and the technology company GMV are leading this initiative supported by the Ministry of Economy and Digital Transformation. So far, 27 institutions across Spain have joined the project, including important research centers and renowned universities.
In Catalonia. The brand new quantum processor will be installed at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) and integrated into the MareNostrum5 supercomputer, one of the most powerful in Europe. Last July, the first phase of the project was completed, which consisted of remote access to a 5-qubit quantum chip. The series will culminate in 2025 with a 30-qubit quantum processor, a crucial step towards making Spain the quantum hub in southern Europe.
Public assistance. Not wanting to be left behind in the quantum race, the Spanish government plans to invest up to 200 million euros in emerging companies committed to the development of this computer system. Another 40 million will be allocated to training specialists in this important technology.