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In race toward quantum computing, North Carolina takes center stage

Brian Gordon, The News & Observer on

Published in Business News

In the 1950s, computers were bulky, inefficient and limited. They ate up entire rooms but couldn’t go beyond rudimentary calculations.

As you know, these machines didn’t stay simple; the mid-20th century computer modernized, compacted, and went on to change the world. This is the path many believe quantum computers are now on: elementary today — transformative tomorr... well, we’ll see.

The promise of computers based on subatomic physics is tantalizing. In theory, problems that would take classical computers years to solve could be handled by quantum computers in minutes, bursting open advancements in finance, chemistry, artificial intelligence, logistics, cybersecurity and more.

With exponentially enhanced calculating power, scientists may have the tools to discover new medicines. Financial firms could better optimize portfolios. Companies would route supply chains more efficiently, and meteorologists would grow more accurate. Hackers might use quantum’s power to bypass passwords but companies and nations could counter by deploying quantum computing to strengthen their cyber defenses.

The possibilities of what quantum could accomplish are vast and hard to pinpoint. Researchers don’t know when a real-world quantum breakthrough will occur, but many do say “when,” not “if.”

“Quantum is progressing faster than many people are anticipating,” said Eric Ghysels, a finance and economics professor at Univerity of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “This thing is coming, and you better be prepared.”

 

Governments, businesses and universities worldwide are spending heavily to prepare for quantum. And in the past few years, the three corners of North Carolina's Research Triangle — Duke University, North Carolina State University, and UNC — have each made distinct contributions to this emerging field, turning the state into a legitimate quantum hot spot.

The power and the noise

In 2018, IBM picked N.C. State’s Centennial Campus as the site of its first IBM Quantum Hub in North America.

Two years later, Duke partnered with the Maryland-based company IonQ to open the Duke Quantum Center inside downtown Durham’s Chesterfield building. Under their arrangement, IonQ has exclusive rights to the intellectual property the lab produces while Duke has received equity in the public company.

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