2019 was a landmark year in quantum computing, featuring great advances in quantum processing speed, quantum programming, and in the evolution of a quantum ecosystem (see this list of 73 companies involved in quantum computing). For CEOs involved in discovery, exploration, cryptography, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical research, artificial intelligence, or the analysis of vast amounts of data, it is now time to officially start closely tracking the development of quantum computers.
What is quantum computing – and why should you care?
Today’s classical computers operate by processing binary bits (a bit is either a zero/zed or a one.) Bits are grouped in bytes – and information is processed, and results are achieved, by sorting or calculating bytes of information.
Quantum computers operate differently. Quantum computers measure quantum bits (qubits) that are not limited to either zero/zed or one – instead representing multiple states (zero/zed, one, both, other states. Accordingly, a qubit can represent more data – and can process tremendously more work per cycle than classical computers. (See this link for a more in-depth contrast of modern day classical computers and quantum computers). As quantum computers mature, they have the potential to perform the work of millions of today’s most powerful supercomputers.
The best analogy we’ve ever heard of how a qubit operates involves using a coin. A coin has a “heads” state (let’s represent this as a zero/zed state), and a coin has a “tails” state (let’s represent this as a one.) A classical computer measures that coin in either a heads up or tails up state (the coin is either a zero/zed or a one.) In quantum computing, that coin can be spun – and as it spins, that coin will sometimes be in a zero/zed or one state – but, as it spins, it can also be in an infinite number of other states. And all of those states can be measured in a single quantum computing cycle – resulting in the ability to process exponentially more work than a classical computer.
Why should you care? For businessses and other organizations, classical computers can meet the needs for processing traditional accounting, transaction and sorting processes. On the other hand, any CEO whose business can benefit from exponentially faster processing speed should start paying close attention to quantum computing. Futher, these CEOs need to allocate resources NOW to “train-up” for quantum computing.
Which businesses should be paying close attention to quantum computing?
So far, the strengths of quantum computing have been in the areas of:
• Chemical processes (simulating physical processes that can be found in nature to aid in material sciences and pharmaceutical development).
• Scenario simulations (measuring a range of different outcomes). This quantum function can help in risk management by measuring volatility on outcomes, in pricing by aiding in the evaluation of asset values for trades, and in marketing to monitor impacts on economic systems.
• Optimization (seeking to find optimal paths). This function is useful in routing, supply chain management, portfolio management and operations.”
• AI/ML (useful for finding relations in data and building assumptions.)
Businesses that have computational problems that are exponential in nature can and probably will benefit from the scale that quantum computers offer.
Quantum computing: Current limitations; future directions
In October of this year, Clabby Analytics published a blog entitled “Quantum Computing: Measuring the Momentum,” which described the current limitations faced by quantum computers – and described future quantum workload scenarios. As we see it, the current limitations of quantum computers involve scale and fault tolerance.
Today’s quantum computers need to be able to process more qubits to tackle large scale problems – and improvement in fault determination and management needs to occur to improve efficiency. Improvements in “quantum volume,” the amount of work a quantum computer can process measured in qubits, are regularly occurring (IBM recently announced a 50 qubit quantum computer – and is doubling scale ever year. And improvements in fault tolerance to stabilize those qubits are also ongoing.
As we said in our previous blog, “as quantum volume increases, expect to see advances in chemical simulation, scenario simulation, optimization and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML). After this, the next phase of use cases in chemicals and petroleum will include advances in oil shipping/trucking, refining processes, and drilling locations. Advances in distribution and logistics will include freight forecasting, irregular behaviors (Ops), disruption management and distribution supply chain improvements.
In financial services, quantum computers will bring advances in derivatives pricing, irregular behavior analysis (fraud analysis) and investment risk analysis. In healthcare and life sciences, advances can be expected through accelerated diagnosis, in clinical trial enhancements, in genomic analysis, and in medical/drug supply chain activities. Finally, in manufacturing, quantum computing will aid in quality control, process planning, manufacturing supply chain activities and in fabrication optimization.”
At the end of the forthcoming decade, we expect to see further quantum volume expansion accompanied by truly fault-tolerant quantum systems. When quantum computers reach the ability to control thousands of qubits, expect to see advances in seismic imaging, in consumer offer recommendations, in financial offer recommendations, in disease risk predictions and in structural design and fluid dynamics.
A final note
CEOs should not expect quantum computers to replace classical computers at any point in the foreseeable future. Rather, expect quantum computers to work in tandem with classical computers – with quantum computers taking on workloads that require exponential scale. Conventional classical computing will be around for a long, long time…