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August 4, 2006

The Direction of Future EU Quantum Information Research

Nicole Hemsoth

Although presently a very young field, quantum information science and technology (QIST) could well have a vital role to play in future information and communication technologies. Quantum computing and communication techniques have the potential to transform the way we think about computing power.
 
Or so believes Daniele Binosi of the Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Innsbruck, Austria, and the European Centre for Theoretical Studies in Nuclear Physics and Related Areas in Trento, Italy, who has been involved in the first phase of the ERA-Pilot QIST project. “Once we can build a quantum computer, the result will be a revolution much like the initial growth in information technology. It will not be so much an evolution in processing power as a revolution. We cannot even imagine now the increase in processing power that will become available.”

The aims of ERA-Pilot QIST are to foster European research efforts in QIST by investigating the present status of quantum research in Europe, identifying the potential for cooperation between research groups, and making recommendations for future research and funding policy at both national and European level. Collaborating with other related projects, it is part of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) proactive initiative in the field of Quantum Information Processing and Communication (QIPC). Since 1998, throughout FP5 and FP6 – the EU's Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes for research, FET has funded projects in this area of research for a total of 100 million euros.

A key objective for this IST-funded project is to promote QIST research in Europe by helping to structure a specialist research community, and by building improved communication channels and cooperation methods for the various groups involved. At present there is limited collaboration between QIST scientists and their counterparts in industry. Nevertheless a strong QIST network exists; the challenge is to ready this network and its links with industry for future industrial markets and applications.

The project partners are also developing proposals for a future infrastructure that will underpin sustainable development of the progress achieved in this area.

“Scientifically,” says Binosi, “there are no obstacles to the development of quantum computing methodologies. What could slow things down is a lack of EU or regional funding. If funding is maintained at present levels we could start to lag behind the US, not to mention other countries that are coming up fast in this area, such as Australia and Japan. This is why foreseeing a higher funding level for QIPC in FP7 [the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for research], is so essential to the maintenance of European research at the forefront in this area.”

Key recommendations from the initial report

The “QIPC – Strategic report on current status, visions and goals for research in Europe” document is widely known as the “European QIPC roadmap.” Started by the FET QIPC initiative as preparation for FP7, it was taken over by the project ERA Pilot QIST. It was written by the most prominent scientists in the field and was a community effort. This strategic report shows that the research community has been able to organise itself and to comprehensively present the major challenges, visions and goals. It will determine the strategic research agenda in Europe for the next decade. It is a living document, which will be regularly updated to serve as a guideline both to scientists and decision makers.

The difficulty is, admits Binosi, that at present there is no one single technological platform upon which policy-makers can focus. The QIPC roadmap recommends that the spectrum for research funding should be kept as wide as possible in all three sub-domains: quantum communication, quantum computation and quantum information science. “It is too early to pick a winning technology now. So funding needs to support a widespread research effort – it may simply be that the killer technology has not been discovered yet!”
 
What other recommendations have emerged from the initial strategic report? “In the quantum computing field, we are trying to focus on technologies that are scalable,” replies Binosi. “For example nuclear magnetic resonance technology is good in principle, but not scalable. We also need to keep in mind that we should be able to miniaturise.”

Binosi points to another example in the area of quantum communications. “There is a big effort towards building a so-called quantum repeater. This is a device essential in many applications, for example, to extend the working distance of secure quantum cryptosystems. Once we succeed, we will have global secure quantum communications, which will be unbreakable even by the power of quantum computers.”

Different strategic approaches

However, one of the most important differences picked out in the European QIPC roadmap, is the unique strategic approach being taken in Europe. “In comparison with other roadmaps in the area of QIPC, the characteristics of the European effort are its broader scope, beyond the focus on specific issues like security or special applications like factoring, as for example in the US roadmap,” says Binosi. “The European QIPC roadmap has a bottom-up approach, which gives us a broader perspective of research fields rather than just a focus on specific issues.”

He also points out: “The EU and the US are aiming for slightly different research objectives in their respective QIPC roadmaps. However, both are extremely challenging.” Binosi says that the EU and US roadmaps were initiated at different times and have different target dates. The US roadmap commenced in 2002, and aims to achieve its long-term goals in quantum computing by 2012, and in quantum communications / cryptography by 2014. “The EU strategic effort commenced in late 2004, and we aim to achieve our long-term goals in ten years from now.”

The first version of the strategic report produced by ERA-Pilot QIST was presented in late Summer 2005. There followed a broad consultation process in the European QIPC community. An updated version was published as an European Commission publication in January 2006. With this initial roadmap now complete, the next steps for the project partners are to draw up a guide to national and European funding agencies, to elaborate further coordination measures and propose approaches to organisation and management. The project is scheduled for completion in 2007, when another project, QUROPE, will take over and expand activities.

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Source: IST Results, based on information from ERA-Pilot QIST