ST Explains: How will quantum computing contribute to vaccine, EV development?

SINGAPORE – Singapore is stepping up its investment in quantum computing.

Mainly, it will have a foundry to develop the components and materials needed to build quantum computers, building an ecosystem of activities in the burgeoning field.

Singapore will also join a handful of nations – the United States, China, France, Finland, Germany, South Korea and Japan – to build its own quantum computer to get first-hand experience with the technology.

The Straits Times explains what quantum computing is and what benefits the technology brings.

1. What is quantum computing?

It is similar to traditional computing but operates at the much cooler temperature of near absolute zero, the temperature at which a thermodynamic system has its lowest energy, which is minus 273.15 °C.

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To reach this supercold state – colder than in space – quantum objects (an electron or a particle of light) are manipulated beneath layers of cladding and cryogenic components to perform complex mathematical calculations beyond the reach of conventional computers.

Conventional computers store information as either 0s or 1s. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use quantum bits (or qubits) to represent and store information simultaneously in a complex mix of zeros and ones. As the number of qubits increases, a quantum computer becomes exponentially more powerful.

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The long development history of quantum computing dates back to the 1970s when the late American physicist Paul Anthony Benioff demonstrated the theoretical possibility of quantum computers.

By harnessing quantum physics, quantum computing has the potential to comb through a multitude of possibilities in hours and find a probable solution. A conventional computer would take hundreds of thousands of years to accomplish a similar task.

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Japan’s first quantum computer prototype, unveiled in 2017, could perform complex calculations 100 times faster than a conventional supercomputer.

Google’s quantum computer, developed in 2019, could perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would take the world’s fastest supercomputers around 10,000 years.

A year later, in 2020, a team from the University of Science and Technology of China assembled a quantum computer that could perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken an ordinary supercomputer 2.5 billion years to perform.

But none of these machines were assigned practical tasks.