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Budget commits $50 million to quantum computing centre

By Jennifer Kavur, Computerworld Canada
February 23, 2009 12:50 PM ET

Computerworld Canada - With matching funds from the province of Ontario and RIM founder Mike Lazaridis, University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing will receive $150 million to build a research facility and attract talent

Canada will become home to the largest concentration of quantum computing talent in the world, thanks to $150 million in funding from government and the founder of Research In Motion Ltd.

The 2009 federal budget plan released this week reveals a $50 million grant to the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at University of Waterloo in Ontario as an investment in knowledge infrastructure that will help reach the government's science and technology strategy goals.

"What the federal government is proposing is very visionary," said IQC director Raymond Laflamme. "It's really thinking about not only things of today and tomorrow, but the long-term sustainability of the country...I'm very impressed that the Government of Prime Minister Harper has decided to invest in this area."

With another $50-million contribution from the Government of Ontario plus $50 million in private funding from Research in Motion founder Mike Lazaridis, IQC plans to move ahead in becoming the largest quantum computing institute in the world.

"When you're talking about this kind of money, assuming it's managed well, you can make some significant advancements in an area that may redefine computing," said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group technology consultancy.

Quantum information science and technology -- the focus of IQC's research -- is a promising replacement for today's computing methods, which will end up at a road block in the future due to Moore's Law, Laflamme explained.

But applying the laws of quantum mechanics to information processing is more than a just replacement. According to Laflamme, the technology promises to be a revolution of the 21st Century.

"It will bring information processing devices a power that is totally mind-boggling and something we wouldn't have expected without these new rules of physics," said Laflamme.

For the last 50 years, we've been computing using the laws of classical physics that we've inherited from Galileo, Newton and Maxwell, Laflamme explained. "We encode information to bits of information, units of information encapsulated in the physical system, which has two states -- 0 and 1. When we compute today, we have strings of zeros and ones and we transform it into another string of zeros and ones," he said.

But in the quantum world, Laflamme continued, particles can be at more than one place at a given time. "If you translate this to information, it becomes equivalent to saying that bits of information can be in zero and one at the same time...so we can add this parallel processing which becomes incredibly powerful," he said.

"We're talking about being able to shrink machines that are more powerful than supercomputers of today into things we could pop into our pocket," said Enderle.

While commercial applications aren't expected for another 10 to 30 years, investing in quantum information today is like investing in computers in the 1950s, said Laflamme.

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