What's behind the race to crack quantum and why is it so hard to achieve?

Quantum technology is a technology field that harnesses properties of quantum mechanics at the microscopic level of individual particles and individual quantum states of matter. While familiar technologies such as lasers, semiconductors and superconductors also behave as they do because of quantum effects, they harness collective quantum behaviour in many-particle macroscopic materials but not at the microscopic level of individual particles.

The logic of quantum mechanics rules supreme in these circumstances, and that logic makes possible what is impossible with non-quantum (‘classical’) technology. Anticipated as the next great leap in human technology, quantum computing promises to revolutionise the technological landscape from materials, chemistry and precision medicine to artificial intelligence and cryptography.

Classical to quantum: a marriage?

Although commonly used, the term ‘quantum computer’ could be considered a little misleading. To some it suggests that quantum computers are to supplant classical computers. However, rather than being a replacement for classical computers, the role of a quantum computer is likely to be as an extension to classical computing systems. Without doubt, classical computers are good at performing many tasks, whereas quantum processors will be important for solving computational problems impossible with classical processors. It seems more likely that a sensible approach would be not to have a quantum processor perform all computations required of a computer but, rather, to place the quantum processor as a co-processor alongside a classical processor. This co-processor model already exists in computing in the form of, for example, the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). In this sense, the future role of the quantum processor may well be as a Quantum Processor Unit (QPU) within a classical computer structure.

Architectures and control software designed to manage the interface between a classical computer and its QPU seem likely to be a fertile ground for future innovation and commercialisation.

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Quantum Computing:

The UK begins work towards world-beating ambitions 

Back in November 2020, the UK set off on a voyage of DISCOVERY, with the launch of new industry-led quantum computing project of that name. The project is part-funded by the UK National Quantum Technology Programme, which is investing £1bn in the effort to overcome the technical barriers to commercial quantum computing.



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Mewburn Ellis Forward is a biannual publication that celebrates the best of innovation and exploration. Through its pages we hope to inform and entertain, but also to encourage discussion about the most compelling developments taking place in the scientific and entrepreneurial world. Along the way, we’ll engage with the IP challenges that international organisations face every day.