Quantum Computing Application To Detect Alien Life

While quantum computing may take many years to become commonplace in everyday life, the technology has already been enlisted to aid in the hunt for life in outer space. 

Zapata Computing, a quantum software firm, is collaborating with the University of Hull in the United Kingdom on research to assess Zapata's Orquestra quantum workflow platform, which will be used to improve a quantum application intended to identify signs of life in outer space. 

The assessment is not a controlled demonstration of characteristics, according to Dr David Benoit, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Physics and Astrochemistry at the University of Hull, but rather a study using real-world data. 

He said,

 "We're looking at how Orquestra works in realistic processes that utilize quantum computing to give typical real-life data." 

"Rather than a demonstration of skills, we're looking for actual usable data in this endeavor." 

Before the team releases an analysis of the study, the assessment will run for eight weeks. 

According to the parties, this will be the first of many partnerships between Zapata and the University of Hull for quantum astrophysics applications. 

The announcement comes as many quantum computing behemoths, including Google, IBM, Amazon, and Honeywell, were scheduled to attend a White House conference sponsored by the Biden administration to explore developing quantum computing applications. 

In certain instances, academics have resorted to quantum computing to finish tasks that would take too long for traditional computers to complete, and Benoit said the University of Hull is in a similar position. 

"The tests envisioned are still something that a traditional computer can perform," he said, "but, the computing time needed to get the answer has a factorial scale, meaning that bigger applications are likely to take days, months, or years to complete" (along with a very large amount of memory). 

The quantum equivalent is capable of solving such issues in a sub-factorial way (possibly quartic scaling), but this does not necessarily imply that it is quicker for all systems; rather, it means that the computing effort is significantly decreased for big systems. 

We're looking for a scalable method to do precise computations in our application, and quantum computers can help us achieve that. 

What is the scope of the job at hand? 

In 2016, MIT researchers proposed a list of more than 14,000 chemicals that may reveal indications of life in the atmospheres of far-away exoplanets, according to a statement from Zapata. 

However, nothing is presently understood about how these molecules vibrate and spin in response to neighboring stars' infrared light. 

Using new computer models of molecule rotations and vibrations, the University of Hull is attempting to create a library of observable biological fingerprints. 

Though quantum computing models have challenges in fault tolerance and error correction, Benoit claims that researchers are unconcerned about the performance of so-called Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) devices. 

"We consider the fact that the findings will be noisy as a beneficial thing since our approach really utilizes the statistical character of the noise/errors to try to get an accurate answer," he added. 

"Clearly, the better the mistake correction or the quieter the equipment, the better the result." 

However, utilizing Orquestra allows us to possibly switch platforms without having to re-implement significant portions of the code, which means we can easily compute with better hardware as it becomes available." 

Orquestra will enable researchers "produce important insights" from NISQ devices, according to Benoit, and researchers will be able to "create applications that utilize these NISQ devices today with the potential to exploit the more powerful quantum devices of the future." 

As a consequence, scientists should be able to do "very precise estimates of the fundamental variable determining atom-atom interactions — electrical correlation," which may enhance their capacity to identify the building elements of life in space. This is critical because even basic molecules like oxygen or nitrogen have complicated interactions that require very precise computations."

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

You may also want to read more about Quantum Computing here.

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