ST Explains: How will quantum computing contribute to vaccine, EV development?

SINGAPORE – Singapore is stepping up its investments in quantum computing.

Chiefly, it will have a foundry to develop the components and materials needed to build quantum computers to establish an ecosystem of activities in the emerging field.

Singapore will also join a handful of nations – the United States, China, France, Finland, Germany, South Korea and Japan – in building its own quantum computer to gain first-hand experience with the technology.

The Straits Times explains what quantum computing is, and the benefits the technology brings.

1. What is quantum computing?

It is similar to traditional computing but operating at the far cooler temperature of nearly absolute zero, the temperature at which a thermodynamic system has the lowest energy corresponding to minus 273.15 deg C.

Under layers of casing and cryogenic components to attain this super cool state – colder than in outer space – quantum objects (an electron or a particle of light) are manipulated to execute complex mathematical calculations out of reach of traditional computers.

Traditional computers store information as either 0s or 1s. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use quantum bits (or qubits) to represent and store information in a complex mix of 0s and 1s simultaneously. As the number of qubits grows, a quantum computer becomes exponentially more powerful.

Quantum computing’s long development history dates back to the 1970s, when the late American physicist Paul Anthony Benioff demonstrated the theoretical possibility of quantum computers.

By harnessing quantum physics, quantum computing has the potential to comb vast numbers of possibilities in hours and pinpoint a probable solution. It would take a traditional computer hundreds of thousands of years to perform a similar task.

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Japan’s first prototype quantum computer, unveiled in 2017, could make complex calculations 100 times faster than a conventional supercomputer.

Google’s quantum computer created in 2019 could perform in 200 seconds a computation that would take the world’s fastest supercomputers about 10,000 years.

A year later, in 2020, a team at the University of Science and Technology of China assembled a quantum computer that could perform in 200 seconds a calculation that an ordinary supercomputer would have taken 2.5 billion years to complete.

But none of these machines was given practical tasks.