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Finland government funds work on potential quantum leap

Finland's government is committing money to the development of quantum computing technologies to potentially provide a giant leap for the nation's industries

Finnish state-controlled VTT Research has rolled out a new project to build Finland’s first quantum computer.

Managed by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT-TRCF), the venture aims to position the tech-savvy country as a leading global force in quantum science and technology.

The first module in the three-phase project will focus on quantum computer design and construction competences. A pivotal mission in year one is to build a high-performance quantum technology ecosystem in partnership with private sector IT companies and universities. The initial phase will also focus on building technology and competences linked to quantum computing, encompassing hardware, algorithms and applications.

The quantum computing project is set to run from 2020 to 2024. A primary requirement in the Finnish government’s funding is that the project will support both Finnish and European companies.

To this end, the funding granted to VTT for the acquisition and development of a quantum computer will be used to promote Finnish and European competence in the field of quantum technologies and quantum computing. 

“The potential contribution of quantum computers to driving the future competitiveness of companies is enormous. High-performance computers will transform the productivity of researchers and companies, and lead to the establishment of a new branch of industry that can deliver prosperity and sustainable growth for Finland and Europe,” said Mika Lintilä, Finland’s Economic Affairs minister.

The primary phase one goals in the project include the delivery of a functioning five-qubit quantum computer on top of competencies reinforcement to elevate capacities in core areas of design and construction. The ultimate target is to build a hyper-powerful 50-qubit machine by 2024.

Finland is the latest country to accelerate the pace and ambition of their quantum computer building programmes. Quantum computer technologies are still in the development stage around the world. These “infant” supercomputers tend to occupy a full room, are very costly to build, have substantial limitations in their usefulness and often operate unreliably.

The VTT QC-project’s ultimate objective is to produce a significantly more powerful computer that enhances Finland’s reputation at the forefront of new technology.

The Finnish government has allocated €20.7m to the venture, which will be run as an innovation partnership open to international bidding. Closer to home, VTT-TRCF plans to cooperate with Finnish companies across the IT and industrial sphere during the various phases of the project’s implementation and application.

The rapid advances in quantum technology and computing have the potential to provide societies with the tools to overcome major future problems and challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, that remain out of the reach of contemporary supercomputers.

Quantum technologies have the potential to complete complex calculations, which currently take days to do, orders of magnitude quicker. Making calculations that traditional computers are fundamentally unable to do, if practical, they would mark a leap forward in computing capability far greater than that from the abacus to a modern computer.

Antti Vasara, the CEO of VTT-TRCF said: “The quantum computers of the future will be able to accurately model viruses and pharmaceuticals, or design new materials in a way that is impossible with traditional methods.”

The amendments made to Finland’s pandemic-affected budgeting in 2020-2021 has buttressed the centre-left government’s long-term commitment to stimulate economic recovery and growth through strategic-investments in innovation and future technologies.

For Finland, the long-term vision is to develop and deploy quantum technology to revolutionise key industrial sectors within the national economy by triggering new business and value-added research opportunities.

Finland’s “technology nation” quantum leap ideology views state-backed, innovation-led engagements – such as the QC-project – as enhancing future competitiveness while giving the government new, powerful and unprecedented computing tools to help the country emerge more quickly and safely from highly disruptive economic crises.

“There has never been a more opportune time to invest in innovation and future technologies that can create demand for Finnish companies’ products and services,” Vasara said.

VTT Research will leverage existing quantum technology research expertise, including related science and technology superconductive circuits, cryogenics, microelectronics and photonics’ fields, to deliver the quantum computing project.

Micronova, a joint venture between VTT Research and Helsinki’s Aalto University, is providing research infrastructure that will bolster the project’s experimental research and the development capabilities of quantum technologies. Micronova’s cleanrooms are already equipped to manufacture components and products based on quantum technologies.

The funding to VTT is purposely structured to support the operations of universities and research institutes, enabling them to create new services for companies, encourage technology partnerships while bolstering the overall competitiveness of enterprises.

VTT Research’s reputation as an international front-runner in supercomputer development was heightened in March when the organisation partnered with leading Finnish institutions to create a 3D model of the Covid-19 virus. The partner-group includes Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, and the CSC IT Center for Science (CSC) and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

The Covid-19 3-D modelling project, which is being run on CSC’s supercomputer, was established to improve understanding as to how the virus is transmitted in the air and provide insights as to whether the virus is able to survive in the air.

The project is also examining how quickly virus concentrations dilute in the air in various airflow situations, such as on public transport, in workplaces, grocery stores and at airports.

Five application areas for quantum computers

  1. Drug and materials discovery: Untangling the complexity of molecular and chemical interactions leading to the discovery of medicines and materials.
  2. Supply chain and logistics: Finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and supply chains, such as optimising fleet operations for deliveries during the holiday season.
  3. Financial services: Finding ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments.
  4. Artificial intelligence (AI): Making facets of AI, such as machine learning, much more powerful when datasets can be too big, such as searching images or video.
  5. Cloud security: Making cloud computing more secure by using the laws of quantum physics to enhance private data safety. 
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