Institute starts search for SDG application of quantum computing

A new institute that opened in Geneva, Switzerland on 5 March is calling on researchers from around the world to submit proposals on the application of quantum computing technology in implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The competition of the Open Quantum Institute lasting three years and offering $5 million in prize to the best project proposals is in line with its objective of ensuring that the fast-emerging technology is open and accessible to all.

Search engine giant Google and non-profit organizations Geneva Science Diplomacy Anticipator and XPRIZE are sponsoring the contest.

“Quantum computing has the potential of changing almost everything,” said Peter Brabeck-Latmathe, chairman of the science and diplomacy platform GESDA that conceived the project.

He told Agence France-Presse the future technology was expected to be “1,000 to 10,000 times more potent than the computing power we have today”, insisting it was vital to begin thinking hard about how to govern it and ensure it is used for good.

Open technology

Quantum computing combines advances in scientific understanding of the subatomic world with leaps in information theory to solve mathematical problems that are impossible for today’s conventional computers.

While traditional computers process information in bits that can be represented by 0 or 1, quantum computers use qubits, which can be a combination of both at the same time, allowing them to solve more complex problems.

The first commercial quantum computers are still believed to be up to a decade away, and the technology is not expected to be fully developed before around 2050.

Brabeck-Latmathe, the former longtime head of Swiss food giant Nestle, said it was important to make sure that such a powerful technology was governed in an open and transparent way and was not allowed to be controlled by a handful of giant tech companies.

With quantum computing still under development, there is “time to think about what’s going to be the impact of these new technologies… the ethical considerations.”

The institute will seek out applications of the technology that can move the world closer to implementing the 17 UN SDGs.

Quantum computing simulations and calculations might for instance help determine how to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to help rein in climate change.

It could also potentially predict patterns of antibiotic resistance, and identify new, more effective chemical compounds for battling deadly bacteria.

Meanwhile, CERN chief Fabiola Gianotti said the landmark nuclear research lab was the perfect place for the OQI, which would benefit from its long experience in “employing scientific and technological progress to the benefit of society.”