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Google Sees ‘Electronic Nose’ on a Smartwatch as Future Quantum Application

Research on algorithms that could warn of viruses in the air revealed in TED talk

Berenice Baker, Editor, Enter Quantum

May 7, 2024

2 Min Read
Founder and manager of Google’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab Hartmut Neven
Google Quantum AI

Future quantum computing technology could lead to an "electronic nose" on a smartwatch that could detect dangerous viruses in the air or allergens in food. It could even expand human consciousness in space and time.

These were among the revelations founder and manager of Google’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab Hartmut Neven shared in a recent TED Talk, part of The Brave and the Brilliant series.

Neven said Google is completing the design of an algorithm that may lead to the first commercial applications for quantum computing.

“This quantum algorithm performs signal processing to enable new ways to detect and analyze molecules using nuclear electronic spin spectroscopy,” he said.

“In times this may lead to exciting consumer applications. Envision a device akin to an electronic nose on your phone or a smartwatch. Wouldn't it be awesome if your phone could warn us that you stepped into a room with dangerous viruses or if your smartwatch could detect free radicals in your bloodstream or warn of allergens in food or many other truly helpful use cases?”

The Role of Error Correction

Neven said a large, error-corrected quantum computer is needed to unlock more applications like these. Google Quantum AI has a roadmap to build a quantum computer with 1 million physical qubits so that there are enough to reduce the error rate to one in a billion.

Related:Quantum Companies Demonstrate Technology to Legislators

“Today our two-qubit operations have an error rate of one in 1,000. That means that in every 1,000 steps or so, the quantum computer will crash,” he said.

“To improve this, we combine many physical qubits with a logical qubit to reduce the error rate to one in a billion or even less. We are about halfway through our roadmap and are optimistic that we will complete it before the end of this decade.”

Google has done analytical and numerical studies to predict which algorithms will be impactful on such a large quantum computer and found that the “killer app” is the simulation of systems where quantum effects are important, for example in developing targeted medicines.

Other simulation examples include designing lighter, faster-charging batteries for electric cars or even aircraft, to accelerate the design of fusion reactors and to help combat climate change.

Another important application of quantum computers is tackling the optimization problems that are ubiquitous in engineering and finance or for machine learning.

Multiverse Theory and Human Consciousness

Neven shared his interest in the intersection of physics and neurobiology, where quantum information science may enable humanity to answer one of its deepest questions – what creates conscious experience?

Related:Google Launches $5M Quest for Real-World Quantum Applications

“An attractive conjecture is that consciousness is how we experience the emergence of a single classical world out of the many the multiverses it is composed of,” he said.

“Academic collaborators have started a program to experimentally test this conjecture using quantum biology. If this conjecture is correct, it would allow us to expand human consciousness in space, time and complexity.”

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About the Author(s)

Berenice Baker

Editor, Enter Quantum

Berenice is the editor of Enter Quantum, the companion website and exclusive content outlet for The Quantum Computing Summit. Enter Quantum informs quantum computing decision-makers and solutions creators with timely information, business applications and best practice to enable them to adopt the most effective quantum computing solution for their businesses. Berenice has a background in IT and 16 years’ experience as a technology journalist.

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