If you had a quantum computer, what would you use it for?

Blog post
Katri Kallio
Katri Kallio

The quantum age is starting. Also here in Finland, as VTT and IQM have started to build Finland’s first quantum computer. What makes this an event to notice? The promise is that quantum computers are so powerful in certain type of computing tasks that it’s like giving a modern laptop to someone who has only used an abacus before.

All this is made possible by physical phenomena at the atomic level that can be used for complex calculations and simulations. As I began to explore this further, I learned that quantum technology seems to be only suitable for solving certain types of problems. But what those problems would be? Would I use it to do searches on the Internet or watch cat videos, only many times faster? If so, what would be the point? It surely wouldn’t be any revolutionary change.  

“All this is made possible by physical phenomena at the atomic level that can be used for complex calculations and simulations.”

To learn more about the benefits of quantum technology and its potential breakthrough applications, I turned to my colleagues. I asked them what kinds of challenges they would solve by using a quantum computer, and how our lives would be different in the 2040s as a result. The computational power of a quantum computer is so massive that it is difficult to imagine all the things it will enable. However, we can already start to make educated guesses on what could be possible.

Here are a few benefits that VTT experts imagined that could be possible in the 2040s.

  1. We could develop a vaccine for a pandemic in a few weeks. Quantum technology will make it possible to simulate one of the key building blocks of human life, proteins and for example their 3-D structure, as it is in reality. This is revolutionary, as now the methods for the development of medicines and vaccines are based on trial and error and on statistical probabilities. This technology takes the guesswork out of the equation and targeted drugs can potentially be produced quickly. So quickly, that pandemics in the 2040s might not even get a chance to start spreading before the vaccines are already available.
  2. Epilepsy might become a thing of the past.Quantum technology will make it possible to measure energy at level of individual atoms. This is significant in brain research, for example. Much of the function of the human brain remains unknown, but quantum technology that is already used (magnetoencephalography or MEG) can detect the epileptic areas in the brain and to significantly improve the success rates for surgery. In the 2040s we might be able to discover changes in the brain already at an early stage before the outbreak of a serious illnesses.
  3. Materials can benefit both their users and the environment.A large part of materials we use every day, such as plastics, are produced from non-renewable fossil raw materials. The reason is that fossil materials are cheap and abundant - for now. When we combine the computational power of quantum technology with chemistry and biology, we could design exactly the kinds of materials we want from different types of raw materials. For example, we could produce durable and renewable materials using carbon dioxide captured from air. In the 2040s we might have materials in use that would no longer be a part of the environmental problem. Instead, they would be optimal solutions to the problem.
  4. Food and materials could be produced outside Earth.Sunlight, carbon dioxide, and the genetic code of microbes are used to create useful raw materials, such as proteins, in today’s laboratories. Researchers envision that with the help of quantum technology, we would be able to create very smart “autonomous research and production units”. They could propose what kinds of raw materials are available in a specific location, how to use them, and to manufacture a desired product. So perhaps in the 2040s we could produce food and materials in locations where it hasn’t been possible before, like in the Sahara Desert or even outside Earth.

Quantum technology is developing at a tremendous pace and we’ll soon be facing great changes.

“The changes that quantum technology enables are more significant than the technology itself.”

The changes that quantum technology enables are more significant than the technology itself. By bringing together VTT experts I learned about the possibilities that quantum technology entails.

Now is the time to think how we want to apply quantum computers, as we are still in the early phase. This way we can both develop our own skills and knowledge, and the direction that quantum technology will take. We want quantum technology to have posite effect on mankind.

It’s good to remember that the future doesn’t just happen. We influence the direction every day with our choices. It is in the best interest of Finland to choose to be active in this.

Have you considered what you would use a quantum computer for if you had one? Join the discussion on social media #quantumchallenge!

I wish to thank the following VTT experts for the interviews:

  • Govenius Joonas, Team Leader, quantum systems
  • Huomo Tua, Executive Vice President, knowledge intensive products and services
  • Kotovirta Ville, Team Leader, artificial intelligence
  • Laukkanen Anssi, Research Professor, digital materials research
  • Majumdar Himadri, Manager, quantum technology
  • Penttilä Merja, Research Professor, synthetic biology
  • Prunnila Mika, Research Professor, electronic sensors
  • Pursula Pekka, Research Manager, microelectronics
  • Vähä-Heikkilä Tauno, Vice President, microelectronics
  • Vasara Antti, CEO
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