Will quantum computing help us tackle climate change?
We may have passed the moment when changes in consumer behavior were enough to mitigate the human impact on climate change. But not all is lost: scientists have high hopes that quantum computing will save us.
A new documentary - Quantum Technology | Our Sustainable Future from The Quantum Daily, developed in partnership with Oxford Instruments Nanoscience, delves into the idea that quantum computing can address one of the most pressing challenges of nowadays - climate change.
“It’s critical to state that we should not solely rely on quantum technology – or indeed any emerging technology - to solve the climate crisis,” Alex Challans, the CEO and co-founder of The Quantum Daily, told CyberNews.
Quantum computers use quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computations that can vastly outperform classical computers in certain aspects. The tasks quantum computers can do may lead to solutions for humankind’s most pressing challenges.
The documentary features insights from leading quantum computing experts and tech giants such as Google, IBM, Intel, and start-ups such as SeeQC and PsiQuantum regarding how quantum technologies could help address key sustainability issues.
We sat down with Alex Challans and Stuart Woods, the managing director at Oxford Instruments NanoScience, to discuss the documentary and the promise that quantum computing brings.
An “astronomical engineering problem”
“One of the things that struck me was the idea that quantum computers can address certain problems in a way that uses significantly less energy. This is one of the key conclusions from Google’s “Quantum Supremacy” paper (as outlined by Alan Ho) and is a rich area for further research,” Challans said.
The documentary is aimed at a broad audience, from those who have a passing interest in emerging technologies – all the way through to quantum technology experts.
“We want to make audiences aware of climate change as an urgent issue. Pete Shadbolt of PsiQuantum describes solving our climate crisis as an ‘astronomical engineering problem.’ This recognizes that we may have passed the point where changes in consumer behavior will not suffice to slow and reverse the effect humanity is having on its environment,” he said.
According to Woods, the documentary presented an opportunity to discuss the importance of prioritizing sustainability in emerging technologies and highlight that we have an obligation to bring new technology to tackle climate change.
“We have one planet, and these conversations must happen now. There are certain problems that can’t realistically be solved with classical computers, even if the computers themselves were the size of a planet. Questions that are organic in nature are complex and require a different way to be calculated – even the way the question is asked is different. And that is where quantum computers come in,” Woods explained.
Quantum computers can consider multiple paths in parallel, promising astounding capacity.
“Today, $25bn is flowing in globally from governments to build the quantum computing ecosystem. There is still a way to go, but we wanted to highlight the exciting connection between the power of quantum computing to overcome the biggest challenge our planet faces,” he added.
How quantum computing can help address key sustainability issues, including:
- reduce the energy use of datacenters and servers that underpin today’s digital world
- reduce the energy required for complex computations even as demand continues to rise in AI, optimization, simulation and more
- accelerate the development of new applications to address global sustainability such as carbon capture and battery development
- minimize quantum computing’s own potential environmental impact
“The time is right”
According to Challans, it is critical to state that we should not solely rely on quantum technology – or indeed any emerging technology - to solve the climate crisis.
“Humanity faces an unprecedented challenge, and we need to bring all the tools we can to bear to address it. What’s interesting is that new technologies are often born out of significant funding efforts linked to national security – whilst we recognize that quantum technologies are seen as a national security issue, it is encouraging that they are also perceived as a force for positive global change” he said.
It is essential to change consumer behavior to tackle climate problems, which is nearly impossible as the demand is only growing.
“The time is right for quantum technology to make an impact on climate change. The most powerful thing we can do to stem this change is slash fossil fuel use and change consumer behaviors. But, consumer demand is only increasing, and changing behaviors is nearly impossible,” Woods said.
Therefore, we need to turn to technological innovations, such as actively sequester carbon and find methods using quantum technology to reverse the climate emergency in the future.
“The advancement of quantum technology will also benefit science by enabling faster drug discovery and new approaches to pharmaceuticals, which will lower costs and make innovations accessible to the developing world,” he added.
Quantum computing is transitioning from theory to development, but we still might be decades away from the first quantum computer.
“There are several technical and engineering challenges to build useful quantum computers. Beyond this, the key challenge for the quantum computing industry is building a strong ecosystem of stakeholders. We see a rapid inflow of capital into the market as investors start to see the enormous potential of the technology. We need to ensure the full supply chain develops to keep pace and that we are facilitating the growth of expertise and talent in the industry,” Challans said.
He and his colleagues at The Quantum Daily are firm believers in the criticality of providing high-quality information and data on the market.
According to Woods, the change can only happen if industry thought leaders work together at scale.
“Indeed, the quantum computing ecosystem is evolving through partnerships between governments, VCs, industries, and academic institutions. Innovation is happening globally, in markets like the US, UK, China, and Japan at an incredible pace, and now fuelled with venture funding, efforts are accelerating, and we have even seen our first SPAC in quantum computing. But, to ensure we get closer to a breakthrough, we must ensure the funding that’s coming in is channeled in the right way. The broad participation of industry thought leaders in this documentary shows a growing desire for change, but change can only happen if we continue to work together at scale,” he said.
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