From Moore’s law to quantum computing
Moore’s Law, the observation made by Gordon Moore in 1965 that the number of transistors on microprocessor chips would double every two years, has governed the world of IT ever since the invention of the computer. But this exponential growth is now reaching its limits, and the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) announced the end of Moore’s Law in 2016.
One possible successor to Moore’s Law is quantum computing, which is capable of increasing current processing power by harnessing the quantum nature of atomic physics. First devised in the 1980s, the concept has grabbed everyone's attention over the past few years, and many developed countries have invested significant sums of money into research and development. “It’s no longer a question of whether the quantum computer will arrive, but rather how to prepare and accelerate its deployment”, explains Harold Ollivier, director of QuantumTech@Inria.
Twenty years of research into quantum computing and an impact on the French ecosystem
Inria was a pioneer on the quantum computing scene, at both a French and European level. The Institute first began research on the subject back in 2001 and now has a clear ambition with regard to quantum computing, which was outlined as a priority in its Objectives and Performance Contract 2019-2023.
The work carried out by Inria in the field can be divided into four main areas:
- Basic research into how quantum machines work, how they can be designed, what they can be used for and post-quantum cryptography
- The research and development required for the effective deployment of a software stack for quantum computing, in keeping with Inria’s position as a technological institute
- Inria’s strategic industrial partnerships with France’s industrial base, like the one entered into with ATOS a few weeks ago
- Supporting the creation and growth of French tech start-ups
A number of Inria scientists have established a reputation through their research in this sector: Mazyar Mirrahimi (director of research and head of the Quantic project team), whose pioneering work on the measurement and control of quantum systems earned him the Inria - French Academy of Sciences Young Researcher Prize for 2019; Phong Nguyen (director of research within the Cascade project team), a specialist in cryptography who was awarded an Advanced Grant worth €2.5 million from the ERC; and Maria Naya-Plasencia (director of research within the Cosmiq project team), who was awarded an ERC grant for her work analysing the security of symmetrical cryptographic systems in a post-quantum world.
Inria to jointly coordinate a priority research programme on quantum computing alongside the CEA and the CNRS
In January 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled an ambitious Quantum Plan which will see €1.8 billion (funded in part by the 4th ‘Investing in the Future Programme’ and the ‘France Relance’ recovery plan) invested into training, research, innovation and industry in the quantum computing sector.
As part of this, Inria, the CEA and the CNRS were put in charge of the relevant priority research programme (PEPR – “Programme et équipements prioritaires de recherche”), a new instrument introduced through the Loi de Programmation de la Recherche.
“Our role is to help to meet the objectives of the PEPR through our research”, explains Harold Ollivier. “Obviously, we are a stakeholder in projects linked to software, but if we have anything that could be applied to hardware projects then we will be delighted to get involved in those.”
QuantumTech: an ad hoc unit aimed at boosting Inria’s visibility in the sector
In support of its objectives in the sector, Inria took the decision a few weeks ago to launch QuantumTech. This dedicated unit will be tasked with identifying all internal subjects and projects linked to quantum computing, supporting their development by ensuring that teams have access to the best recruitment, providing international support and establishing contacts with industry.
“What we were set up to do is to capitalise on our undisputed, internationally-renowned expertise in quantum computing, increasing our research activity when it comes to software for quantum computing and helping to guide R&D in the wider quantum ecosystem in France in a scientifically sound direction. Part of this will involve helping our partners to prepare for the upcoming revolution, providing them with the tools they need”, explains Harold Ollivier.
Given the previously existing project teams specialising in quantum computing, this was an obvious choice to make. Indeed, there are currently four Inria project teams whose primary focus is on quantum computing: Cosmiq, Quantic, Mocqua and Quacs. As Harold Ollivier points out, “These teams are world leaders in their fields”.
The Institute also boasts expertise in quantum computing at its centres in Grenoble and Lyon, and a skills hub dealing with information theory and quantum algorithms is expected to be launched fairly soon.
“Unlike in other fields, the work of these teams is centred around the use and applicability of their research”, explains Harold Ollivier. Alongside these projects, QuantumTech is also aiming to facilitate reciprocal exchanges with other players within this ecosystem, from major tech companies such as Atos or Microsoft to start-ups like Alice&Bob or Pasqal, or even theoretical experimental groups, the overarching aim being to consolidate France’s position as one of the most advanced countries in this field.