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Computer technology A quantum leap for Germany? Europe’s first quantum computer was inaugurated today in Ehningen near Stuttgart. The ultra-fast computer from IBM is supposed to help the economy compete with China and the USA. From Michael Herr.


Structure of the quantum computer IBM Q System One

Computer technology A quantum leap for Germany?

Status: 15.06.2021 6:25 p.m.

Europe’s first quantum computer was inaugurated in Ehningen near Stuttgart. The ultra-fast computer from IBM is supposed to help the economy compete with China and the USA. From Michael Herr, SWR The “marvel of technology”, as Angela Merkel called it, is massive: the quantum computer, IBM and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft on Tuesday at the German headquarters, is supposed to have a footprint of three by three meters at a height of three meters of the IT group in Ehningen near Stuttgart has presented to the public. According to IBM, the “most powerful quantum computer in the industrial environment of Europe” has officially arrived in Swabia. It was set up in November last year. Because of the pandemic, the computer could only be inaugurated today. The expectations that many have placed on the system are even greater than the computer: some experts predict that quantum technology will be the starting point for the next industrial revolution. The quantum computer should also ensure that Germany is at the forefront when it breaks out.

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Favorite project of the Chancellor

The new computer in Ehningen is called “Quantum System One” – and is considered a kind of favorite project of Merkel. At least it could be switched on live at the opening. She arranged the project herself – on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos 2019, during a conversation with IBM boss Ginni Rometty. In the autumn of the same year the promise was made: the computer will come to Germany. The Fraunhofer researchers will initially use the facility exclusively until the end of 2023. Fraunhofer President Reimund Neugebauer said that computing power would be rented to research institutions and companies of all sizes. Companies should also make use of their research results. Only recently, a quantum alliance of leading corporations in the field was founded in Germany. On board are among others BASF, SAP and VW. A total of six projects have now been started with partners from science and industry to research quantum technology, possible application scenarios and algorithms. The computer is the first that the US corporation IBM is making available outside the USA.

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Computer technology revolution

Now that the potential of supercomputers has largely been exhausted, quantum computers are seen as a new beacon of hope for industry and research. Wherever large amounts of data arise, for example in the simulation of molecules or in drug research with its innumerable variables, quantum computers have the edge. The reason for this lies in their special type of information processing. A normal computer calculates in bits. However, these can only assume two states, 1 or 0. The computing power that can be provided is therefore limited. Quantum computers, on the other hand, calculate with qubits, tiny quantum particles such as photons or electrons. To put it simply, these can not only alternately assume the states 1 or 0, but both at the same time. This enables you to carry out many calculations in parallel.

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Germany Developing country in quantum computing

So far, Germany and Europe have practically not appeared on the world map of quantum computing. This is shown not least by the fact that it first took a US company to bring the first commercial quantum computer to Europe. The big players in the business are in the USA; A total of 13 established companies are currently working there on computers or associated software, including names like Google and Microsoft. China has also invested huge sums in the technology. In order to catch up with the deficit of the German economy, the state has reached into its pockets: 40 million euros are provided for the system in Ehingen, financed by the federal government and the state of Baden-Württemberg. The Chancellor said it was a future technology that could achieve breakthroughs in medical technology and revolutionize materials research because the speed of computers would make very complex calculations possible. With its funding of two billion euros until 2025, the federal government wants to support market-oriented development. In addition, Germany wants to develop its own quantum computer demonstrator with a company consortium in the next two years. In Germany the results of quantum technology research must now be used “as quickly as possible”, also economically, said Merkel. In other words: New industrial applications for the technology are needed. Many possible uses of quantum mechanics have so far only been at the research stage.

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Quantum technology improves cancer diagnostics

You can already see the potential of the technology at the start-up “NVision” in Ulm. 30 employees from nine nations work here. They share knowledge and curiosity for quantum physics. They are making use of their principles for new diagnostic methods with which cancer can be detected better and earlier. To do this, they use a sugar-like active ingredient that makes cancer cells detectable in the magnetic resonance tomograph. “We make sugar visible by using quantum technology to magnify the signals it sends out ten thousand times.” explains Ilia Schwartz, one of the founders of “NVision” and one of the most renowned quantum scientists at all. With the new technology, tumor diagnoses could soon be made without the use of radioactive contrast media. And doctors would gain deep insights into diseased tissue like never before: Tumors could be detected earlier and the success or failure of therapies could be determined. The new computer should also ensure that such success stories of quantum technology become even more common in Germany. However, there is another problem to be resolved on the way there: So far, there has been a lack of a sufficient number of programmers in this country who can exploit the potential of the new machine.