3.7 QIPC in a wider scientific and technological context

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QIPC has arisen in response to a variety of converging scientific and technological challenges. The main one being the limits imposed on information processing by the fundamental laws of physics. Research shows that quantum mechanics provides completely new paradigms for computation and communication. Today the aim of QIPC is to understand how the fundamental laws of quantum physics can be harnessed to improve the acquisition, transmission, and processing of information. The classical theory of information and computation, developed extensively during the twentieth century, although undeniably very successful up to now, cannot describe information processing at the level of atoms and molecules. It has to be superseded by a quantum theory of information. What makes the new theory so intellectually compelling is that the results are so surprising and with so far reaching consequences.

During the last ten years, QIPC has already established the most secure methods of communication, and the basic building blocks for QIPC have been demonstrated in technologically challenging experiments. Efficient quantum algorithms have been invented, and in part implemented, and one of the first non-trivial applications will be the development of quantum simulators with potential applications in, for example, material sciences. On the technological side these developments are closely related to improving atomic clocks and frequency standards. Future advances in the field will require the combined effort of people with expertise in a broad range of research areas. At the same time, the new conceptual and technical tools developed within QIPC may prove fruitful in other fields, in a process of cross-fertilization encompassing a wide variety of disciplines (including, for instance, quantum statistics, quantum chaos, thermodynamics, neural networks, adaptive learning and feedback control, chemistry, quantum control, complex systems). This profoundly interdisciplinary character is one of the most exhilarating aspects of the field. Its potential is being recognized by commercial companies all over the world. A new profile of scientists and engineers is being trained to confront the challenges that lie beyond the end of the VLSI scaling. It is clear that advances in QIPC will become increasingly critical to the European competitiveness in information technology during the coming century.

Yet, at the moment most activities are focused on basic research in universities and there is very limited collaboration between QIPC scientists and industry. To maintain and develop competitiveness within this field in comparison to other research areas enhanced structuring and co-ordination of efforts on a European level are necessary. At the same time, a strong QIPC field ready for future industrial applications requires the involvement of relevant industry as well. In this sense an early dialogue needs to be established between science, policy, and industry in order to develop a common vision about the future of QIPC in Europe.

QIPC is definitely centered in the realm of basic research with its own distinct goals and applications in computation, communication and information processing in all its aspects. Furthermore QIPC research will have a deep impact on several EU strategic priorities. There is significant potential impact on technology, economics and social issues. In addition there are several spin-offs with applications in other fields of science, engineering and technology:

  • The rapid growth of information technology has made our lives both more comfortable and more efficient. However, the increasing amount of traffic carried across networks has left us vulnerable. Cryptosystems are usually used to protect important data against unauthorized access. Security with today’s cryptography rests on computation complexity, which can be broken with enormous amounts of calculation. In contrast, quantum cryptography delivers secret crypto-keys whose privacy is guaranteed by the laws of Nature. Quantum key distribution (QKD) is already making its first steps outside laboratories both for fiber based networks and also for communication via satellites. However, significant more basic research is necessary to increase both the secret bit rate and the distance. This is the field of Quantum Communication.
  • The development of quantum information theory together with the development of quantum hardware will have a significant impact on computer science. Quantum algorithms, as for example Shor’s algorithm for factorizing numbers with implications for security of classical crypto-protocols, indicate that quantum computers can perform tasks that classical computers are believed not to be able to do efficiently. A second example is provided by quantum simulations far beyond the reach of conventional computers with impact on various fields of physics, chemistry and material science. In addition, QIPC is redefining our understanding of how “physical systems compute”, emphasizing new computational models and architectures.
  • QIPC is related to the development of nanotechnologies. Devices are getting smaller and quantum effects play an increasingly important role in their basic functioning, not only in the sense of placing fundamental limits, but also opening new avenues which have no counterpart in classical physics. At the same time development of quantum hardware builds also directly on nanotechnologies developed for our present day computing and communication devices, and provides new challenges for engineering and control of quantum mechanical systems far beyond what has been achieved today. An example is the integration of atom optical elements including miniaturized traps and guides on a single device, capable of working as a quantum gyroscope, with extremely large improvements in sensitivity both for measuring tiny deviations of the gravitational field, as well as for stabilizing air and space navigation. In spintronics, a new generation of semiconductor devices is being developed, operating on both charge and spin degrees of freedom together, with several advantages including non-volatility, increased data processing speed, decreased electric power consumption, and increased integration densities compared to conventional semiconductor devices.
  • Quantum mechanics offers to overcome the sensitivity limits in various kinds of measurements, for example in ultra-high-precision spectroscopy with atoms, or in procedures such as positioning systems, ranging and clock synchronization via the use of frequency-entangled pulses. Entanglement of atoms can help to overcome the quantum limit of state-of-the-art atom clocks which has been already reached by leading European teams. On the other hand, the quantum regime is being entered also in the manipulation of nanomechanical devices like rods and cantilevers of nanometer size, currently under investigation as sensors for the detection of extremely small forces and displacements. Another example is the field of quantum imaging, where quantum entanglement is used to record, process and store information in the different points of an optical image. Furthermore, quantum techniques can be used to improve the sensitivity of measurements performed in images and to increase the optical resolution beyond the wavelength limit.