All questions answered by Prof. Stephanie Wehner from the Technische Universiteit Delft, Netherlands.
What do you want to achieve in this project?
The Quantum Internet Alliance (QIA) targets a Blueprint for a pan-European Quantum Internet by ground-breaking technological advances, culminating in the first experimental demonstration of a fully integrated software stack running on a multi-node quantum network.
Our goal is to push the frontier of quantum network technology in two directions: On the one hand, we advance sophisticated quantum processors that can connect to the network to enable complex quantum applications to be run. We will connect three and four remote quantum network nodes, thereby making the leap from simple point-to-point connections to first multi-node networks. On the other hand, we will demonstrate key-enabling capabilities for quantum repeaters, resulting in proof-of-principle demonstrations of elementary long-distance repeater links in the real-world. Such quantum repeaters are needed to allow quantum bits to be transmitted over long distances, with the goal to eventually connect all of Europe and the world.
Hand in hand with hardware development, QIA will realise a network and software stack to enable fast and reactive control of a quantum network, and to make the network broadly useful for applications. In particular, such a stack will allow arbitrary high-level applications to be programmed in platform-independent software, enabling developers to write application software that can be run on any such network. As a showcase, QIAwill perform an elementary secure quantum cloud computation on a small quantum internet. In QIA, we also examine real world use cases of such application protocols and their exact hardware requirements, in order to bring real-world benefit to future users of a quantum internet.
Finally, it is crucial for the main phase of the flagship to understand how we can scale small networks to a pan-European and eventually worldwide quantum internet. To this end, QIA joins forces to create a Blueprint for a scalable design which will guide its further work.
How will European citizens benefit from this project, both from the technology developments it accomplishes as well as the basic science breakthroughs it may achieve?
We are working towards a quantum internet, because we believe its applications will bring key benefits to European citizens using this network. We are pursuing this goal in Europe, because we are convinced Europe can be a world leader in quantum communications, becoming a focal point of quantum network industry in the future.
As with any radically new technology, it is hard to predict all uses of the future Quantum Internet, but several major applications have already been identified. One striking application of quantum communication is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which allows secure communication. The security of QKD is guaranteed by the fundamental laws of nature, and thus fully future-proof even against any attacker possessing a large-scale quantum computer. Other promising known applications are clock synchronisation, extending the baseline of telescopes, secure identification, achieving efficient agreement on distributed data, exponential savings in communication, quantum sensor networks, as well as secure access to remote quantum computers in the cloud.
Next to bringing new applications to the end user in the future, QIA relies on the synergy of Research and Technology Organisations and its leading industrial and academic partners, with the objective to create a future European hardware and software industry. QIA aims to engage traditional network and software developers even outside itself in order to accomplish this goal. As an example, since its start 1 October 2018, QIA has already held its first hackathon with RIPE NCC (the Regional Internet Registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia). The hackathon was open to any software developers.
Why is the Quantum Flagship important and why did you choose to become part of it?
Building a large-scale quantum internet is an extremely ambitious and long-term project akin to the first moon landing. Success requires a sustained interdisciplinary effort of physics, computer science and engineering combining academia and industry. Europe has great expertise in all of these areas spread across the continent.
We are excited to join in the Quantum Internet Alliance, since it allows us to leverage individual excellence into a world-leading team, bringing us closer to our ambition of building large-scale quantum networks. After the initial ramp-up phase, the flagship holds the promise for this team to transcend working on short-term projects, and allow a committed long-term focus, joining research and engineering to attain the moon landing of being able to build a pan-European quantum internet, and translate technology into real world benefits for Europe's citizens.
How do you see the advancement of quantum technologies in the near future and what would be your ultimate dream in the long run?
Our ultimate dream is to create a worldwide quantum internet that can be used by anyone. Attaining this ultimate dream is an immense challenge that will take the young Quantum Internet Alliance team many years to realise.
Quantum networks, however, have the potential to find widespread use already much earlier - at shorter distances, and with fewer capabilities. To run useful applications such as quantum secure communications, only very simple quantum devices capable of preparing and measuring a single qubit at a time are required. This is in sharp contrast to quantum computing, in which we need more high quality qubits that can be simulated on a classical supercomputer to attain real world benefit. Simple point-to-point quantum communication devices capable to performing secure communications are already commercially available at distances of around 100km. We expect to see simple networks that go beyond point-to-point and connect metropolitan areas within the next years. The path towards a large-scale quantum internet can thus be a gradual one in which distance and functionality are slowly increasing over time as technology development progresses.