IQT The Hague: In search of the quantum internet’s killer app

By Dan O'Shea posted 24 Feb 2022

Quantum sector experts meeting up at IQT’s event in The Hague this week have been casting about the quantum internet’s killer app, which might help focus and quicken the efforts of many in the space. Could it be that the killer app for a distributed network of quantum computers simply could be quantum computing itself?

That’s one way of putting it. The value of a quantum internet or quantum communications networks in which many quantum computers would be connected and share entanglement is in the power that network would create to focus on massive computing problems.

“The killer app here would just be building upon this idea of the multiplicative power of connecting quantum computers,” said Peter Rohde, ARC Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the Center for Quantum Software and Information at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. 

Rohde, speaking during the “Why Quantum Communications?” panel at this week’s event, added, “Suppose quantum computing was standardized, they all operated on a similar physical basis. At some point in the future, we’d settle upon how to build a lot of computers of the same form and then we have a quantum internet that in principle allows them all to be connected. Then, from a computational perspective, the optimal thing to do is to unify them all into one. Unify them into a globally distributed quantum computer and then time-share its resources between the users, rather than anybody doing anything on their own.”

Such a scenario recognizes the “multiplicative power” of networked quantum computers, as opposed to the linear scaling of classical computer networks.

“We will have something greater than the sum of the parts when we join quantum computers together and make them operate in unison and get that multiplicative effect,” Rohde said. “And certainly we can imagine a future with data warehouses all over the world that we multiply together to see what the economic payoff there could be.”

But, acknowledging the international public policy and regulatory environments that might need to be navigated for that to happen, he added, “Unfortunately, one of the first things many people learn about quantum computers is that they are going to break the internet.”

Mathias Van Den Bossche, Director, Telecommunication and Navigation Systems R&D at Thales Alenia Space, said during the same session, “Is quantum computing the killer app? You know, we are inventing the quantum internet right now like people were inventing the classical internet in the 1960s. And back then they had no clue about what we are doing now with the internet with our smartphones.” Killer apps may come to identify themselves and the exponential increase in computing power becomes available.

Companies looking to make money off the notion of the quantum internet or quantum communications networks may want more specific answers to the killer app question.

Stefano Pirandola, Founder and CEO of nodeQ, said during the same panel that clear uses for quantum networks would be the connecting and managing of large numbers of quantum sensors and the data they collect, or the tackling of large machine learning problems in a variety of industries, things that require the involvement of entire ecosystems. “We should look at this entity [the quantum internet] as a multi-user, multi-tasking environment that is global, not just for computing but a lot of other things that can be done together on such a powerful network.”

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