Paving the path for the quantum era

The immortal words uttered by Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, “if quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet”, ring true more than ever in today’s ultra-connected world. Just 30 years ago, scientists were only beginning to imagine the possibility of constructing a quantum computer more powerful than any classical computer.

About two decades ago, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) realised the need for a sustainable economy driven by more than natural resources. Investment in technology and innovation to support the shift to a diverse, knowledge-based economy in the UAE has become a national priority, with a current US$3 billion annual investment. Abu Dhabi, the capital, is now focused on technology’s critical role in the UAE’s future economic development and diversification. Efforts such as offering a pathway to citizenship for scientists and inventors and funding multimillion dollar innovation accelerator programs underscore Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s intent to become a serious hub for R&D and advanced technology innovation.

As part of these efforts, the Quantum Research Center (QRC) at the Technology Innovation Institute (TII), a branch of the Abu Dhabi Government’s Advanced Technology Research Council, is currently researching applications in quantum communications and quantum sensing. The QRC is also conducting research in quantum computing, focused on developing high-quality qubits and reliable measuring techniques. It runs experiments with a 300-part quantum computer that is cooled to -273.14 Celsius. This work in quantum information sciences is part of an important shift for the Arab world, where investments in quantum research are still relatively modest. However, the region is realising that early investment supports longer term advancements with the potential for greater outcomes. Quantum research breakthroughs will offer the region opportunities ranging from improved optimisation of oil supplies, medical advances and outcomes, and diversification into new industries.

Quantum computing’s potential

So, what is quantum computing exactly, and why does it draw so much buzz in the international scientific community? Quantum computing uses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems that are too challenging for classical computers. The technology takes advantage of the ways in which energy and matter behave at the subatomic level to carry out tasks and computations that exceed the performance of current digital computers. However, classical computers, which have become part of every aspect of how we live, learn, and work today, will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Computing has given us the internet, enabled digital transformation across every industry and sector, fueled globalisation, revolutionised the way we communicate, and powered the advancement of AI, machine automation, and robotics. Still, these computers have capability and speed limitations that signify the likely end of Moore’s Law.

The immense power and speed of quantum computing offers the potential to solve problems in optimisation, materials science and chemistry, and AI and machine learning. These capabilities would revolutionise multiple industries across the region. The oil and petrochemical industries have long been pivotal for the growth of Middle East economies, and quantum computing, with its support for advanced and highspeed analytics at mass scale, presents opportunities for nations to hone oil exploration, optimise supply and demand, and drive down costs in the supply chain. On the security front, quantum computing can play a critical role in defending against cybersecurity breaches and fortifying computer software to safeguard confidential data. In healthcare, it could lead to better approaches to personalised medicine by allowing faster genomic analysis to inform tailored treatments that are specific to every patient.

Perhaps one of the most near-term and promising applications for this technology can be found in the financial services and fintech sectors, where institutions could leverage the use of quantum algorithms to help run better forecasting models, and more precisely meet challenges such as optimising investment portfolios. These potential achievements have far-reaching implications for global finance hubs, from the US to the UAE to Singapore, which could leverage quantum technology to effectively analyse and protect substantial, yet unstructured, datasets to improve customer experience, help banks make more informed decisions, and react more swiftly to market volatility.

In an increasingly digitalised world, where massive amounts of data need to be analysed and quantified, society will demand at-speed solutions for some of its most pressing problems, from disease prevention and treatment to financial modeling, cybersecurity, and climate change mitigation. As research moves toward real-world usage in key industries, quantum computing is projected to become more commonplace, performing as a coprocessor for processes such as implementation of AI, pattern detection, and optimisation.

The global appetite for quantum technology is poised to increase its market value to $1 trillion by 2035, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, and the UAE is one of several countries beginning to push for headway in quantum technology research and development. According to Zapata Computing’s report, “Enterprise Quantum Computing Adoption” (December 2021), the rate of adoption of this technology is growing exponentially, with 69% of global enterprises revealing that they are either planning to adopt or have already implemented quantum computing into their operations.

It is imperative for governments and private investors to support quantum information science research and development through dedicated investments in technology and innovation. Businesses must prioritise attracting the people who are skilled in using the tools and knowledge that support advances in quantum information science. Higher education institutions must graduate students whose future work holds the potential to impact billions of lives. With a holistic community investment, quantum information science can support solving currently intractable challenges, while building the economies of the future in the UAE and across the world.

About the author

Dr Ray O. Johnson is Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Innovation Institute (TII), a global research centre based in Abu Dhabi, dedicated to pushing the frontiers of science and transformative technologies. Prior to joining TII, Dr Johnson was an Operating Partner at US venture capital company, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, in Maryland, USA, where he was responsible for engineering, technology, and operations. Dr Johnson holds PhD and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio, USA. He is a Full Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics and a Fellow of the International Society for Optical Engineering, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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