You hear more and more about quantum. But what will it bring us in the future? How do you stay connected as an institution to this new and fast-growing technology, or do you not have to? Axel Berg, innovation manager Lab at SURF and Jesse Robbers, director of Quantum Delta NL have the answers.
What is quantum technology exactly?
Jesse Robbers: ‘Quantum technology is going to help us create the next generation of digital infrastructure. The current generation bit can be a zero or a one. The quantum bit or Qbit can be both. And that offers unprecedented possibilities. For example, the speed and calculating capacity of computers will increase exceptionally and a quantum network will be able to connect enormous data sets.’
Axel Berg: An important third aspect concerns security. With quantum technology, you can establish a very secure connection. A connection that cannot be tapped without your knowing it. That is a huge step forward for all applications that require a high level of security. And there are more and more of them.’
Jesse Robbers: ‘We have no idea what the quantum killer app of the future will be, but I'm sure it will be there.’
The quantum killer app of the future is definitely coming.
Has quantum technology now passed the stage of hype?
Axel Berg: ‘Yes, absolutely. Until about five years ago, it was more of a big promise but that is now completely over. The arrival of the first working quantum computers, however small, has given a big boost to the belief in their future. As a result, investments have soared. The potential is huge.’
Jesse Robbers: ‘The government, academia, industry, the telecom sector and also investors are all involved. We are now talking about billions. And when investors step in, you know that something is really going to happen. Moreover, in the Netherlands we have the unique combination of a number of top scientists who have also found each other. This is truly a case of Dutch glory.’
What will quantum technology mean for research and education?
Axel Berg: ‘An enormous amount. With the advent of quantum technology, we are really entering a new world full of possibilities. The processors that we now use, for example, will not become much faster and the number of chips that we can use simultaneously is also reaching its limits. If researchers now want to simulate the climate of the future, for example, they do so with resolutions of the order of hundreds to tens of kilometres. With quantum technology, this is potentially possible at a much higher resolution.'
Jesse Robbers: 'Think also of the chemical sector and of the development of new vaccines and medicines. In the future, research into these will be accelerated enormously thanks to quantum technology. What now takes weeks or months can soon be done within a day.’
Axel Berg: ‘It is extremely important that all technical developments go hand in hand with training new people. There are already universities and colleges with quantum tracks, but the future demands much more. There is a real need to rethink programming from the classical to the quantum way.’
Jesse Robbers: ‘One of the action lines in the programme is to extend education in quantum technology to all levels. And that really goes from university to primary school. We will need everyone very soon. Children now know what plastic soup is but they hardly know anything about bits or Qbits. That really has to change.’
What is a good time for an institution to step into these developments?
Axel Berg: ‘The first users within institutions will mainly be researchers of quantum technology. As an institution, it is important that you chart their activities and especially their needs and see how you can facilitate them. Both within your own institution and between different institutions. And SURF can of course play a supporting role in this. It will be some time before quantum technology is fully operational and widely deployable. I'm thinking at least 5 to 10 years.'
Jesse Robbers: ‘As institutions, you really have to start thinking broadly, because you need a lot of different knowledge and expertise. Not just in terms of technology but also in terms of applications, business models and ethical issues. We are going to lay a new foundation under our digital infrastructure and that affects all areas of science. And I can easily imagine the first quantum computer soon becoming operational from within the SURF environment.’
As institutions, you really have to start thinking broadly, because you need a lot of different knowledge and expertise. Not just in terms of technology but also in terms of applications, business models and ethical issues.
Why do you think quantum technology will be a success?
Jesse Robbers: ‘Because we can't do otherwise. The demand for more connectivity, computing power and security continues to grow. Doing nothing is not an option. Moreover, we in the Netherlands have been leading the way for a long time. We have a number of great freaks, in the good sense of the word, who want to go all the way. And we now have money and, moreover, we are supported by Europe. The European Commission wants more digital sovereignty and also wants to take on the big players in the US and Asia. It really is now or never. I am delighted that I can play a role in these developments with passion, knowledge and experience.’
Axel Berg: ‘Institutions do not have to take immediate action today or tomorrow. As SURF we are already taking a good look and gaining experience of what is needed for institutions and their applications to become 'quantum-ready'. So that they will soon be able to make full use of the advantages of quantum technology. We know for certain that the impact will be huge the day after tomorrow. After all, digitisation is now not only in the capillaries of all the institutions but also of the whole of society. It is wonderful that SURF can contribute to making this new technology applicable.’
Quantum Delta NL
Quantum Delta is a Dutch partnership for the promotion of quantum technology. It combines the forces of various Dutch universities with quantum computing research, including Delft, Eindhoven, Leiden, Twente and the University of Amsterdam. Together with the business community, Quantum Delta NL works on innovation in the field of quantum computing, quantum networks, quantum sensors and the supply and stimulation of talent in this field.
Text: Johan Vlasblom