Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Way Forward: Quantum Initiative and the Institute

Sometime last week, we had an interesting event of an initiative started by Muhammad Rezal and Cybersecurity Malaysia. The initiative is called MyQuantum (my Singapore colleague seems to like the name). The initiative started perhaps because of the growing concern of Malaysian cryptologists of the growing buzz of quantum computing technology is now already here. A quantum computer can run Shor's algorithm of fast factorization that could render RSA cryptosystem breakable. With headlines like "D-Wave Announces D-Wave 2000Q Quantum Computer and First System Order", "Scientists achieve critical steps to building first practical quantum computer" and "IBM unveils roadmap for quantum computers", they can certainly cause a stir. In fact, in the workshop, Zuriati informed us about IBM is making available its 5-qubit quantum computer for public to experiment on through the web (see also here) and this has actually shown us that IBM quantum computing technology has gone much more beyond than proof-of-principle.

MyQuantum event had two speakers from CQT in Singapore namely Kwek Leong Chuan and Alex Ling. I'm happy that they came. Much earlier, I told Kwek about this initiative and I actually very much hope that he would come given that Kwek was there at the beginning of the quantum information initiatives in Singapore almost twenty years ago. Kwek spoke on atomtronics, a topic I had not heard him speak before, from which I learned they had begun developing atomtronic devices akin to those in electronics. However Kwek told us that the idea is not to replace electronics but to get new devices. It is good that Kwek gave us a talk on this, demonstrating there is more to quantum technology than simply quantum computing and quantum cryptography, a message that was also repeated by Ridza Wahiddin. Alex Ling gave a talk on quantum safe, much to the practicalities in implementing quantum key distribution and of particular interest is putting the technology into space.

Another person that I have suggested to the MyQuantum committee to give a talk is Jesni Shamsul Shaari, a good friend of mine who has done good work on QKD. He gave an entertaining but yet informative talk on the first Malaysian QKD protocol and his latest work on Mutual Unitary Unbiased Bases. The others giving the talks are Muhammad Ridza Wahiddin, Raymond Ooi, Zurita Ahmad Zulkarnain, Nurisya Mohd Shah (representing our group), Muhamad Rezal Kamel Ariffin and Chris Liaw Man Cheon (the last two on post quantum cryptography).

The organizers asked us to give comments on what we think on the initiative and I wrote a few. They are:

  • To have an international advisory committee (Kwek suggested a small one) to ensure genuine progress and new directions.
  • To network with established centres (like CQT for proximity) and have students and researchers worked/trained there.
  • In addition to post quantum cryptography, there should be efforts to understand and to keep updated on quantum algorithms or possibly start research on these as well.
I sincerely hope that this initiative will get through since many "theoretical" initiatives in the past have not been very successful, particular those focusing on centres, labs and institutes. However there are consortiums like NanoMalaysia which could be a model to follow. Another hope is that the initiative is not limited to information security (which would be the main interest of the drivers) but include all the pillars suggested (theory, technology, quantum cryptography and post quantum cryptography) and hopefully more. In other places, quantum information centres are melting pots for physicists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. From the presentations at the workshop, one can hope for a consortium with centres or research labs running across institutions as follows:

  • Quantum optics in University of Malaya
  • Quantum cryptography in IIUM
  • Theory in INSPEM, UPM (and possibly other places)
  • Post quantum cryptography in INSPEM, UPM & Cybersecurity
New research ventures will take time but should not be excluded and there is a lot of room to explore given the appropriate investment.

Sometime before this event, we also had the pleasure to have our newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovations visit the institute. He suggested for us to revisit our vision and mission, perhaps doing some roadmapping. Indeed, we have been in existence for 15 years and is now entering the fourth phase (if one takes each phase of five years). Where should we head to? What I would like to see is enhancement of internationalization and interdisciplinary research. For the former, we already had the status of EMS-ERCE and MICEMS establishment. The institute's role in regional development of mathematical sciences should be relooked (one role of ERCE). We should also be aware of the progress made by other ERCEs. With the inclusion of Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) as an ERCE, we are no longer unique in the South-East Asia region and we should consider how to complement them. It is good that we are co-organising this year's ICREM with ITB and we should take this opportunity to discuss with them on further collaborative ideas. In complementing our roles, I think we should harness whatever strength we have in mathematical sciences research; given respective niche areas of the two institutions (INSPEM, UPM and ITB), the regional community may benefit from the development in these areas. Our close relation with MICEMS should be an added bonus in this respect.

This brings to the discussion of what is indeed our niche areas, what can the institute be identified for. Generally, as I have said above, I would like to see our interdisciplinary or multidisciplincary research to be enhanced and by this, I include the fusion or interplay of mathematics subdisciplines like number theory and geometry etc. Things that I think quite natural to be explored is the interaction between mathematics and engineering (a lot of numerical stuff can be done here), mathematics and computer science (again numerics and possible new areas involving theoretical computer science), mathematics and physical sciences including biological sciences (plenty to explore within theoretical physics and theoretical biology) and even mathematics and social sciences (like complex networks). These ideas however need to be worked on with willing researchers to take up the exploration. This is certainly ambitious but I do not think it is impossible. Let's hope to realise some bits and pieces.

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