Scientists and researchers have long extolled the extraordinary potential capabilities of universal quantum computers, like simulating physical and natural processes or breaking cryptographic codes in practical time frames. Yet important developments in the technologythe ability to fabricate the necessary number of high-quality qubits (the basic units of quantum information) and gates (elementary operations between qubits)is most likely still decades away.
However, there is a class of quantum devicesones that currently existthat could address otherwise intractable problems much sooner than that. These near-term quantum devices, coined Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) by Caltech professor John Preskill, are single-purpose, highly imperfect, and modestly sized.
Dr. Anton Toutov is the cofounder and chief science officer of Fuzionaire and holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Caltech. You can follow him at @AntonToutov.
Dr. Prineha Narang is an assistant professor of computational materials science at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. You can follow her @NarangLab.
As the name implies, NISQ devices are noisy, meaning that the results of calculations have errors, which in some cases can overwhelm any useful signal.
Why is a noisy, single-purpose, 50- to few-hundred-qubit quantum device exciting, and what can we do with it in the next five to 10 years? NISQs provide the near-term possibility of simulating systems that are so mathematically complex that conventional computers cannot practically be used. And chemical systems definitely fit that bill. In fact, chemistry could be a perfect fit for NISQ computation, especially because errors in molecular simulations may translate into physical features.
To understand this, its valuable to consider what noise is and how it occurs. Noise arises because physical and natural systems do not exist in isolationthey are part of a larger environment, which has many particles, each of which are moving in different (and unknown) directions. This randomness, when discussing chemical reactions and materials, creates thermal fluctuations. When dealing with measurement and computing, this is referred to as noise, which manifests itself as errors in calculations. NISQ devices themselves are very sensitive to their external environment, and noise is already naturally present in qubit operations. For many applications of quantum devices, such as cryptography, this noise can be a tremendous limitation and lead to unacceptable levels of error.
However, for chemistry simulations, the noise would be representative of the physical environment in which both the chemical system (e.g., a molecule) and the quantum device exist. This means that NISQ simulation of a molecule will be noisy, but this noise actually tells you something valuable about how the molecule is behaving in its natural environment.
With errors as features, we may not need to wait until qubits are hyperprecise in order to start simulating chemistry with quantum devices.
Perhaps the most immediate application for near-term quantum computers is the discovery of new materials for electronics. In practice, however, this research is often done with little or no computer-based optimization and design. This is because it is too hard to simulate these materials using classical computers (except in very idealized scenarios, such as when there is only a single electron moving in the whole material). The difficulty comes from the fact that the electrical properties of materials are governed by the laws of quantum physics, which contain equations that are extremely hard to solve. A quantum computer doesnt have this problemby definition the qubits already know how to follow the laws of quantum physicsand the application of NISQs to the discovery of electronic materials is an important research direction in the Narang lab.
What is special about electronic materials is that they are usually crystalline, meaning that atoms are laid out in an organized, repeating pattern. Because the material looks the same everywhere, we dont need to keep track of all atoms, but only of a few representative ones. This means that even a computer with a modest number of qubits may be able to simulate some of these systems, opening up opportunities for highly efficient solar panels, faster computers, and more sensitive thermal cameras.
Chemical research has been going on for centuries, yet new chemistry is most typically discovered by intuition and experimentation. An application of quantum devices in which we are particularly interested at Fuzionaire is the simulation of chemical processes and catalysts, which are substances that accelerate chemical reactions in remarkable ways. Catalysts are at the heart of the entire chemical industry and are relied on each day in the production of medicines, materials, cosmetics, fragrances, fuels, and other products. Significant challenges exist, but this area is a very important opportunity for NISQ devices in the next five to 10 years.
For example, the Haber-Bosch synthesis (HB) is an industrial chemical process that turns hydrogen (H2) and nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3). HB makes it possible to produce enough ammonia-based fertilizer to feed the world, but the process is energy-intensive, consuming approximately 1 to 2 percent of global energy and generating about 3 percent of total global CO2 emissions.
At the heart of the entire process is a catalyst based on iron, which is only active at high temperatures and without which the process fails. Scientists have been trying to discover new catalysts for HB that would make the chemistry more efficient, less energy-intensive, and less environmentally damaging. However, the catalyst discovery and testing process is challenging, painstaking, and costly. Despite many decades of tremendous effort by chemists and engineers, the iron catalyst discovered over 100 years ago remains the industrial state-of-the-art.
Near-term NISQ systems would be used to give chemists unprecedented insights into the inner workings of the current iron catalyst in its physical environment and would be applied to simulate novel, viable catalyst architectures, including those based on elements other than iron.
Biological systems are extraordinarily complex, which makes modeling and simulation very challenging. Prediction of biological molecules and biochemical interactions with conventional computers, especially in biologically relevant environments, becomes difficult or impossible. This forces even basic, earliest-stage biomedical research to be done by working with chemicals, cells, and animals in a lab and hoping for reproducible conditions between experiments and organisms. This is why drug discovery, a vital area of biomedical innovation that encompasses both chemistry and biology, is such a tantalizing opportunity for NISQ intervention.
Developing new medicines for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, viruses, diabetes, and heart disease is one of the most important activities within the entire chemistry enterprise. However, the current reality is that bringing a new drug to market continues to be slow and costly, to the tune of about 10 to 15 years and more than $2 billion, by some estimates.
A central challenge within the drug discovery process is to identify a biological target that has relevance to human disease and to design molecules that could inhibit that target with the hope that this would treat the disease. Quantum devices could be used to simulate common biological targets such as kinases, G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), and nuclear receptors in their dynamic environments and in complex with inhibitor molecules. These simulations would enable drug discovery scientists to identify potentially active molecules early in the process and discard non-actives from consideration. The most promising drug candidate molecules would then be synthesized and promoted to biological studies (e.g., pharmacology, toxicology) in the laboratory.
While there are great opportunities for near-term quantum devices and much hope for improved systems in the future, we must not get carried away. Research will need to solve significant challenges, including creating systems with many more qubits, improving qubit performance, and developing coding languages for quantum computers, among others.
Nevertheless, there are great reasons to be optimistic as we look forward to the next five to 10 years. Significant resources are being committed by large companies like IBM, Google, and Microsoft to quantum computing efforts; healthy investment is flowing into quantum hardware startup companies like Rigetti, D-Wave, IonQ, and others; and important academic results are being reported using current or near-term quantum devices, including solving lattice protein folding problems, predicting the optical response of exotic materials, investigating the mechanism of nitrogen fixation by nitrogenase, and many others.
As a professional chemist and physicist, were excited about the current capabilities and optimistic about the utility of near-term quantum devices. Were hopeful that these systems will provide to the scientific community new insights that will accelerate discovery and help us solve problems to improve the human condition.
WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here. Submit an op-ed email@example.com
- Quantum computer - Simple English Wikipedia, the free ... - October 11th, 2019
- Topological quantum computer - Wikipedia - October 11th, 2019
- What is a quantum computer? Explained with a simple example. - September 11th, 2019
- Qubits and Defining the Quantum Computer | HowStuffWorks - September 5th, 2019
- For a Split Second, a Quantum Computer Made History Go ... - May 13th, 2019
- What is a Quantum Computer? - Definition from Techopedia - April 11th, 2019
- What Is a Quantum Computer? | JSTOR Daily - April 11th, 2019
- Measuring Quantum Computer Power With IBM Quantum Volume ... - April 9th, 2019
- Explainer: What is a quantum computer ... - March 24th, 2019
- What Can We Do with a Quantum Computer? | Institute for ... - March 7th, 2019
- Qubit - Wikipedia - February 25th, 2019
- Quantum computer | computer science | Britannica.com - January 10th, 2019
- IBMs new quantum computer is a symbol, not a breakthrough - January 9th, 2019
- IBM unveils the world's first quantum computer that ... - January 9th, 2019
- Were Close to a Universal Quantum Computer, Heres Where We're At - November 28th, 2018
- Schrdinger's Killer App: Race to Build the World's First ... - August 7th, 2018
- How Quantum Computers Work - May 3rd, 2018
- This is what a 50-qubit quantum computer looks like - January 15th, 2018
- Inside Microsofts quantum computing world | InfoWorld - January 1st, 2018
- Microsoft Takes Path Less Traveled to Build a Quantum ... - December 13th, 2017
- Researchers create new type of quantum computer | Harvard Gazette - December 12th, 2017
- Microsoft releases quantum computing development kit preview ... - December 12th, 2017
- Intel moves towards production quantum computing with new 17 ... - October 11th, 2017
- Quantum computer a possibility in 10 years - News.com.au - NEWS.com.au - September 7th, 2017
- Scientists Propose a New Kind of Quantum Computer, But What ... - Gizmodo - September 7th, 2017
- Quantum detectives in the hunt for the world's first quantum computer - Phys.Org - September 7th, 2017
- Scientists Just Found A Use For The Hashtag In Quantum Computing - Gizmodo Australia - September 4th, 2017
- The Future of AI: From Quantum Computing to the Internet of Things - Outer Places - September 4th, 2017
- We're About to Cross The 'Quantum Supremacy' Limit in Computing - ScienceAlert - September 2nd, 2017
- Explaining the Most Recent Record for Quantum Computing: A 51-Qubit Quantum Computer Array - All About Circuits - September 2nd, 2017
- USRA Upgrades D-Wave Quantum Computer to 2000 Qubits - insideHPC - September 1st, 2017
- Quantum encrypted box hints at unhackable communication - Wired.co.uk - September 1st, 2017
- Quantum Computer Programming: What You Need to Learn to Get ... - TrendinTech - September 1st, 2017
- Google's John Martinis Believes Quantum Computing Threat to Be Long Way Off - Bitcoin News (press release) - August 31st, 2017
- Australian quantum computing outfit goes commercial - Networks Asia - August 31st, 2017
- Elusive Majorana Particle Takes Major Step Towards Quantum Computing - IEEE Spectrum - August 29th, 2017
- Australia gets quantum computing company - ACS (registration) - August 28th, 2017
- Quantum Computing and Financial Trading - LeapRate - August 28th, 2017
- Russians Lead the Quantum Computer Race With 51-Qubit Machine - Edgy Labs (blog) - August 28th, 2017
- Bitcoin vs. The NSAs Quantum Computer Bitcoin Not Bombs - August 26th, 2017
- qBitcoin: A Way of Making Bitcoin Quantum-Computer Proof? - IEEE Spectrum - August 26th, 2017
- Hype and cash are muddying public understanding of quantum ... - Phys.Org - August 26th, 2017
- Silicon Quantum Computing launched to commercialise UNSW ... - ZDNet - August 23rd, 2017
- IEEE Approves Standards Project for Quantum Computing ... - Business Wire (press release) - August 23rd, 2017
- Introducing Australia's first quantum computing hardware company - CIO Australia - August 23rd, 2017
- What is quantum computer? - Definition from WhatIs.com - August 22nd, 2017
- Hype and cash are muddying public understanding of quantum computing - The Conversation AU - August 22nd, 2017
- Finns chill out quantum computers with qubit refrigerator to cut out errors - ZDNet - August 22nd, 2017
- UNSW joins with government and business to keep quantum computing technology in Australia - The Australian Financial Review - August 22nd, 2017
- 'Tools of DESTRUCTION' Quantum computers WILL wreak havoc ... - Express.co.uk - August 19th, 2017
- Quantum computing comes of age - Alphr - August 14th, 2017
- No, Quantum Teleportation Won't Let Us Send Instant Messages to Alpha Centauri - Air & Space Magazine - August 12th, 2017
- Google on track for quantum computer breakthrough by end of ... - August 11th, 2017
- Closing In On Quantum Computing | WIRED - August 11th, 2017
- World's Leading Physicist Says Quantum Computers Are Tools of Destruction, Not Creation - Futurism - August 10th, 2017
- Will you be able to trust a quantum computer? - Digital Journal - August 9th, 2017
- New Methods of Controlling Electrons Could be Major in Quantum Computing - TrendinTech - August 5th, 2017
- Exactly what could quantum computers do? - Electronics Weekly - August 4th, 2017
- What is quantum computing and why does the future of Earth depend on it? - Alphr - August 2nd, 2017
- The Age of Quantum Computers is upon us! - Gizbot - August 2nd, 2017
- Ultracold molecules hold promise for quantum computing | MIT News - MIT News - August 1st, 2017
- Clarifiying complex chemical processes with quantum computers - Phys.Org - August 1st, 2017
- When Will Quantum Computers Be Consumer Products? - Futurism - August 1st, 2017
- Quantum Computers Just Moved a Step Closer to Reality - NBCNews.com - August 1st, 2017
- A New Breakthrough in Quantum Computing is Set to Transform Our ... - Futurism - August 1st, 2017
- Quantum computers compete for supremacy - Salon - July 10th, 2017
- Quantum Computers Compete for "Supremacy" - Scientific American - July 5th, 2017
- Less is more for Canadian quantum computing researchers - ITworld - July 4th, 2017
- New method could enable more stable and scalable quantum ... - Phys.Org - July 4th, 2017
- Volkswagen buys D-Wave quantum computers which sell for $15 million each - Robotics and Automation News (press release) (registration) - July 2nd, 2017
- 6 Things Quantum Computers Will Be Incredibly Useful For - Singularity Hub - July 1st, 2017
- Quantum Machine Learning Computer Hybrids at the Center of New Start-Ups - TrendinTech - June 20th, 2017
- Israel Enters Quantum Computer Race, Placing Encryption at Ever-Greater Risk - Sputnik International - June 20th, 2017
- Prototype device enables photon-photon interactions at room ... - Phys.Org - June 20th, 2017
- The Quantum Computer Factory That's Taking on Google and IBM - WIRED - June 20th, 2017
- Toward optical quantum computing - MIT News - June 17th, 2017
- Get ahead in quantum computing AND attract Goldman Sachs - eFinancialCareers - June 16th, 2017
- KPN CISO details Quantum computing attack dangers - Mobile World Live - June 16th, 2017
- Quantum Computing Technologies markets will reach $10.7 billion by 2024 - PR Newswire (press release) - June 14th, 2017
- From the Abacus to Supercomputers to Quantum Computers - Duke Today - June 13th, 2017