Tsunamis, thunderstorms, and hurricanes are examples of natural phenomena that have huge consequences and are too complex even for the best available supercomputers to calculate in near real-time. In Finland, a new type of supercomputer is developed, merging conventional supercomputing with quantum computing. The initiative is still in research phase but holds promises of being able to crack problems such as how a tsunami will develop, or which path a hurricane will take.
While data transfer normally involves transmission of either electrons or photons, quantum technology takes things to a new level. Particles are transmitted in different quantum states, thereby adding to the amount of information contained. Instead of transferring bits which can have values of either 0 or 1, a quantum computer transfers so-called qubits that can have multiple values. This feature makes them extremely powerful.
Pure quantum computers remain in the future, but researchers are already able to have quantum-based devices compute certain tasks. The best results are obtained, when the quantum device operates under supervision from classical computers.
Finland is one of the first countries to connect a quantum computer and a supercomputer. Finland’s first quantum computer, the 5-qubit HELMI hosted by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, became operational in 2021. The LUMI supercomputer, hosted by CSC, the national research and education network (NREN) of Finland, began operations the same year.
“VVT wants to do applied research using the quantum computer and learn more about these possibilities. We see great potential in quantum computing for accelerating innovation for the benefit of companies and the whole society. We will continue to build bigger and more powerful quantum computers, which will also be available for users through the same gateway,” says Pekka Pursula, Research Manager at VTT.
“LUMI is now the most powerful quantum-enabled supercomputing infrastructure in the world, in addition to being the leading platform for artificial intelligence. This means that we have all the drivers of the future of computing seamlessly integrated and ready to be utilized,” says Pekka Manninen, Director of LUMI.
The hybrid quantum/supercomputer is developed within the Finnish Quantum-Computing Infrastructure (FIQCI). In the case of short-term prediction of the development of tsunamis and other potentially disastrous phenomena, the computer would be fed earth observation data from satellites. Similarly, high-quality image processing could, for example, be applied to detect a budding forest fire before it spreads uncontrollably. And in the financial sector, higher accuracy in algorithms comes with instant reward.
“Quantum computers are in many respects strange and unfamiliar, and it will be exciting to see how our customers end up using them. New technology tends to find uses in areas no-one even thought of before!”, comments Mikael Johansson, Quantum Strategist at CSC.
The Finnish Quantum-Computing Infrastructure, supported by the Academy of Finland and NextGenerationEU is a central part of the vibrant quantum technology ecosystem in Finland. FiQCI aims at providing true quantum-acceleration of research and development. The connection between HELMI and LUMI is the first major milestone. A 20-qubit quantum computer is currently under development at VTT, with a 50-qubit upgrade planned for 2024. Beyond this point, the complexity of quantum computers will surpass the modelling capacity of even the largest supercomputers.
The text is inspired by the article “Finland opens quantum computer for research purposes – the fusion of quantum computing and supercomputing enables completely new science” on the CSC website.
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