Quantum bits, or qbits, that represent atoms, ions, photons, and electrons that can store and process data are at the root of technology that has long since ceased to be part of science fiction and is increasingly practical.
Speaking with SAPO TEK during Science 19, Lars Montelius, managing director of INL – International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, explains how this technological revolution is already being used and the impact it can have on the economy, but also underlined the opportunity. which it represents for young people dedicated to this area in their academic and research career.
SAPO TEK: What perspectives does quantum computing open on its various application areas?
Lars Montelius: We are facing the beginning of a new revolution in the field of quantum computing. From quantum material we can innovate in other areas, such as quantum communication, which has given us important data about communication between people and about encrypted information that cannot be stolen. Another example is quantum computing, which allows you to calculate complex data very quickly and can be applied, for example, in analyzing how medicines are affecting our bodies. Quantum simulation, which allows a very clear description of natural quantum systems through probability and simulations, in very complex areas and which can be managed by quantum sensors to apply more precise sensors at molecular level, obtaining accurate information, for example, whether a cancer treatment is having an effect on the patient or not. It is a very broad concept, since everything we do today is accounted for and with a lot of information we can have a more effective system of measures in smaller quantities.
SAPO TEK: The protocol that was signed [durante o Ciência 19] focused on quantum communication applied to infrastructure?
Lars Montelius: Quantum infrastructural communication is an EU-promoted European project which is intended to be signed by all members of the European Union. I am naturally pleased that Portugal signed this protocol today, after some countries have already done the same. I see this as a good sign, as the Portuguese government is giving importance to this area and taking evolution seriously.
This revolution will affect the whole society. Quantum computing is more important than the invention of the World Wide Web and the Internet itself, as it has a bigger impact, which will take some time to come naturally. Some things will be faster and some take longer. The paradigm of quantum physics is about 100 years old and since then we have more and more tools to use this principle in very complex situations.
SAPO TEK: I know this is a very broad question, but what impact can quantum computing have on businesses economically?
Lars Montelius: It is almost a guaranteed impact. It is about understanding molecular interactions, which may not have an immediate financial impact. What is most immediate in financial applications and in the area of fintech, with fraud, which will be one of the fastest getting benefits. On the other hand, the health sector also has great potential, because the component of measurement and evaluation of molecular interactions are very important that will allow us to predict events rather than solve them, and have a better system to make us healthier. And for that applies the area of quantum sensors. People don't have to realize if it's quantum or not, it's simply a new quantum-based sensor that measures something new more efficiently. But there are many more problems that can be solved with quantum technology, such as logistical problems, quantum computing and simulation.
SAPO TEK: We have seen, even in Portugal, a bet on supercomputers, but they do not solve all problems. What is the differentiation?
Lars Montelius: They are classic computers, in some ways, and do not solve all the problems that would take a long time to solve, hence having to resort to quantum physics. But it is not a choice between one and the other, we have to use both in parallel. There are problems that are not suitable for quantum computers and where classical computers are used, so we need both. It is therefore necessary to choose the best method, and both types of computing will evolve in parallel for decades. So I think bringing a supercomputer to Portugal is very important, and the partnership with Spain is relevant, but the connection with quantum computing is also important, maintaining this connectivity.
SAPO TEK: It's hard for just one company or university to develop a quantum computing and communication strategy. How should partnerships be thought of?
Lars Montelius: The way IBM is developing quantum technology is excellent and unheard of, giving due importance to the development of an ecosystem. This is the first time I have seen this implemented in this way, and it is very well thought out. There will certainly be quaint computers, and someone will build them, and it is a business in itself but not as important as the ecosystem, all the startups that will be developing the technology, the linking mechanisms between the different stakeholders. The value is on the application side. We can't stop at the material side, but we have to turn on the ecosystem and this is very important because it is one of the reasons why some technologies either failed or took too long to implement because it was there and no one really worked with the systems.
SAPO TEK: We have seen temptations, even in the supercomputers of some governments that have not authorized technology sales because they consider that they are providing more “powerful” tools to other states. Do you consider that in quantum computing there is also this risk?
Lars Montelius: All major countries can make such associations, so we have these protocols. Therefore in Europe we are betting on this partnership in the area of quantum technology, with the collaboration between different partners. It is so important that we cannot rely on others to guarantee it. And in science one of the most beautiful things is that development is independent of politics, although there is always political recommendation and guidance but science itself is not political. And that's good because we need to work together in a non-commercial way, and continue to develop this cooperation, work together and learn from others and avoid polarization.
SAPO TEK: Given that there are few professionals specializing in this area, how can companies and universities capture knowledge of the younger generation?
Lars Montelius: All young people trained in quantum physics will surely have a guaranteed future. It is a very safe prediction. And this is one of the reasons why the Portuguese government is betting in this area, in a broader framework, to foster young people's interest in an area where there will be many opportunities.
The word quantum still scares a lot of people, who believe it is a very difficult area, has many concepts of physics, but the truth is that not everyone has to do everything. Needs of people with different skills who can use technology, for example from the medical field, and want to understand how they can take advantage of it.
In the future this is what will happen: we will use this technology and some people have the ability to build and develop it and others will use it as a tool and apply it. It is similar to what happened to the Internet. At first no one thought that the internet was going to be what it became today, with the positives and negatives.