Technology

Quantum computing in 2024: What are the challenges?

Research looking at the development of quantum computing has found there has been continued investment in the technology, thanks in part to government initiatives.

The State of quantum 2024 report from venture capital firm OpenOcean, technology investor Lakestar and quantum computer specialist IQM reported that over 30 governments have committed to more than $40bn in public funding commitments to quantum technologies that will be deployed in the next 10 years.

The study also noted that national labs and quantum computing centres have accelerated practical applications with dedicated quantum computing centres and hubs emerging.

The report’s authors stated: “In 2023, quantum technologies continued their advance beyond their theoretical statements to initial practicality, seeing startups transitioning from the lab to the market, whilst we also saw physical full-stack deliveries of quantum computers emerging in national labs and quantum centres.”

Although the insights for 2023/2024 show a doubling of the number of enterprise users interested in or pursuing quantum technologies, global quantum industry private investment declined 50%. This was mainly due to an 80% drop in investment in the America – Europe, the Middle East and Africa actually saw an increase in quantum computing investment of 3%.

The report recognised the gap between current business needs and the immediate capabilities of many quantum computing systems. “End users are looking for transparency in quantum computing roadmaps, and continued delivery of milestones is essential for building confidence and managing expectations,” the report’s authors noted.

They also believe the adoption barriers to quantum computing will evolve beyond fault-tolerance and scalability into challenges such as data security and “cost per functional computation hour”, and urged the industry to develop more primitives and practical algorithms to help businesses explore quantum computation beyond theories and research questions.

Fault tolerance

There have been a number of recent developments that point to improvements in error correction. These pave the way to quantum computing that could eventually be used to solve computationally challenging problems that cannot be realistically run on a classical computing architecture.

For instance, in January, QuEra Computing announced a strategic roadmap for a series of error-corrected quantum computers, starting in 2024 and culminating in a system with 100 logical error-corrected qubits in 2026. Quantum hardware developer Alice & Bob, in collaboration with the research institute Inria, has also unveiled a quantum error-correction architecture.

Building on previous research based on LDPC code, a class of efficient error correction codes that reduce hardware requirements to correct errors occurring in information transfer and storing, the theoretical research found that 100 high-fidelity logical qubits could be achieved using 1,500 physical “cat” qubits, designed to reduce so-called bit-flip errors in quantum computing.

The researchers cited previous calculations that showed the factorisation of RSA-2048 integers could be theoretically done in four days using 350,000 cat qubits. “We estimate that, under the same hardware assumptions, the improvements proposed in this paper would reduce this number to less than 100,000 cat qubits, and seven days of computation,” they said. 

Alice & Bob said the results indicate that the combination of cat qubits with classical LDPC codes produces a viable architecture for a large-scale quantum computer. The company said the architecture could be further improved by optimising protocols for implementing logical gates or by continuing to improve the design of cat qubits at the hardware level.

“Over 90% of quantum computing value depends on strong error correction, which is currently many years away from meaningful computations,” said Jean-François Bobier, partner and director at the Boston Consulting Group. “By improving correction by an order of magnitude, Alice & Bob’s combined innovations could deliver industry-relevant logical qubits on hardware technology that is mature today.”

The State of quantum report also highlighted cost as a potential barrier. The high cost of quantum computing time compared with other high-performance computing systems poses a barrier to widespread adoption, the report’s authors noted.

Jan Goetz, CEO and co-founder of IQM Quantum Computers, said: “2023 was a year of steady technological progress resulting in larger qubit counts and initial error correction, as companies successfully published and followed quantum roadmaps.

“However, the algorithmic side remains less predictable. While scaling processors is largely an engineering challenge, estimating timelines for software improvements is more dependent on hardware progress.”

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