Quantum supremacy: the age of quantum technologies. What are they and why will we use them?

06.04.2021 – 14.00 – Since the twentieth century we began to speak of a first, real quantum revolution. The understanding of the quantum properties of matter, developed in the first part of the century, has in fact led to the realization of innovative technologies such as the transistor and the laser; in fact, all today’s electronic devices that we know use these new technologies.
To date, the ability to control and manipulate in even greater detail the quantum properties of matter has paved the way for what is called the second quantum revolution, which develops on four main domains.

Quantum computers: thanks to the peculiar quantum correlations that take the name of entanglement, a quantum computer opens new and wider horizons in the field of computation, being able to perform some operations much faster than a normal computer. A significant innovation, which sees its application in various fields: from chemistry to genomics, up to the study of materials, financial models and optimization problems.

Quantum communication: quantum mechanics offers the possibility to generate cryptographic keys (e.g. in messaging, the sequence of numbers that allows to transform an original message into an apparently meaningless one) at a distance in an intrinsically safe way. This represents a real leap forward in terms of Cybersecurity, as it allows to significantly raise the security standards compared to the current classical cryptographic systems that can be instead violated by a quantum computer.

Quantum sensors: quantum states of matter are extremely sensitive to environmental noise, this means that quantum systems can measure small forces and short distances, time intervals and rotations, paving the way for revolutionary developments in the field of metrology. The application here, too, encompasses multiple fields, from navigation and gravimetry to earth observation, climate monitoring and synchronization.

Quantum simulators: these are quantum systems which are highly controllable in a laboratory environment, able to simulate specific properties of complex systems (e.g. molecules), not fully accessible to a traditional computer. Their practical application ranges from fields such as chemistry, nuclear physics, up to materials science, fluid-mechanics, but also to optimization problems.

The development of quantum technologies, just in virtue of their possible application to such a large range of fields represents a big leap forward in terms of scientific and technological progress for the whole of mankind: not by chance, today, the largest computer companies (Alibaba, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Honeywell), are investing in this direction. At the same time, the number of innovative start-ups (Alpine Quantum Technologies, Pasqal and Muquans in Europe to name a few), which have already been able to generate important results in this sense, is growing rapidly.

As proof of this, worldwide investment in quantum technology research and development is huge: 2018 saw the launch of the Quantum Technology (QT) Flagship, which sees €1 billion in funding from the European Union. At the same time, overseas, the United States has funded the National Quantum Initiative with over a billion dollars. But significant investments have also been made by individual countries: more than one billion for India, and hundreds of millions in the case of the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany; China has also made significant investments of billions of euros. Italy, which has identified quantum technologies as one of the key and strategic areas of research, is not exempt from the list.

Inevitably, many of these technologies will have very high costs, and as discoveries and research developments in the field continue, a division of the world is gradually emerging, with countries possessing these technologies on one side and countries without them on the other, with a consequent and significant imbalance in terms of security and economic development, to the advantage of the former and to the disadvantage of the latter.

Angelo Bassi (translated by Michael Guggenbichler)

[Prof. Angelo Bassi is a leading international scientist in the field of quantum mechanics fundamentals, since 2006 he is lecturer at the Department of Physics at the University of Trieste. He has published more than 100 papers on international journals. Moreover, he leads the European network QTSpace: Quantum Technologies in Space and the international research project TEQ: Testing the Large-scale limit of Quantum Mechanics]