A few weeks ago, Iran broke through worldwide media due to its announcement that the country had successfully developed and deployed quantum computing products to aid in its military operations. But even as Iran’s Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari smiled at the cameras present in the announcement, the tech world was quick to notice that the gold-plaqued board being showcased as an example of the country’s work on quantum computing was nothing more than an Amazon-available, ARM-based FPGA (Field-Programable Gate Array) development board.
It seems Iran took a bit longer than one would expect to actually run the numbers on its “quantum computing product.” Only recently, the country issued an official withdrawal statement admitting that there was no quantum at all to its quantum announcement.
“The unveiling of the FPGA board in the said conference has conveyed this false mentality to the country’s media space that the said board is a quantum processor, which was not the case,” said the research vice chancellor for Imam Khomeini University (machine translation via Tasnim News). Note that the issue isn’t with the announcement itself and how it was worded. Apparently, the issue was with the country’s media.
Even so, the research vice chancellor insisted that Iran is indeed looking into quantum computing as an aid for its armed forces’ missions, adding that “the principle of the problem of the proposed algorithm, dealing with the disturbance of surface vessels’ positioning systems, is important and approved for the promotion of maritime security.”
To be fair, FPGAs can be (and often are) paired with quantum computing elements – they’re usually deployed in quantum control mechanisms, bridging the gap between standard computing (like the one that’s powering your current reading experience) and quantum computing (and if you’re reading this in a quantum computer, do make sure to leave us a note).
So the ARM development board could, perhaps, have been truly used for quantum computing research at some point. Even so, there’s a difference between treading the quantum waters with an FPGA dev board and actually manufacturing and deploying devices such as Intel’s own Tunnel Falls Quantum Processing Unit (QPU) or IBM’s Quantum System One. But Iran’s leadership apparently thought it best to reap the (now meagre and questionable) geopolitical rewards of throwing its hat onto the quantum computing ring.
That might’ve been a bad move – but only Iran’s leadership knows for sure.