Experts believe, the world has entered into the Quantum Decade — an era when enterprises begin to see quantum computing’s business value.
Quantum computing has progressed from a research experiment to a tool that is already making inroads in the enterprise to solve complex problems. Experts believe, the world has entered into the Quantum Decade — an era when enterprises begin to see quantum computing’s business value.
The advances in hardware, software development, and services validate the technology’s momentum, that’s paving the way for further breakthroughs in 2022 and helps prepare the market for the eventual adoption of this revolutionary technology.
The quantum race is underway
Governments worldwide have committed over $25 Billion to quantum research and development. Tech majors such as IBM, Google, Alibaba, Microsoft Amazon, and other companies are in the race to monetize quantum computing as an everyday tool for business.
IBM for example, declared its plans to build a 1,000-qubit quantum computer by 2023, a first time ever in the tech industry, and also broke new grounds in November by unveiling ‘Eagle’, a cutting-edge processor that’s reportedly the most powerful quantum computing processor developed by IBM thus far and could blaze a historic new trail in IT.
Alphabet has built a 54-qubit processor Sycamore and demonstrated its quantum supremacy by performing a task of generating a random number in 200 seconds, which it claims would take the most advanced supercomputer 10,000 years to finish the task. The company also unveiled its newest 72-qubit quantum computer Bristlecone.
Alibaba’s cloud service subsidiary Aliyun and the Chinese Academy of Sciences jointly launched an 11-qubit quantum computing service, which is available to the public on its quantum computing cloud platform.
Not just big technology companies, well-funded startups have also targeted the quantum computing space to develop hardware, algorithms and security applications. Some of them are Rigetti, Xanadu, 1Qbit, IonQ, ISARA, Q-CTRL and QxBranch.
One of the major goals companies are currently striving for is so-called quantum supremacy, when a quantum computer performs a calculation that no classical computer can perform in a reasonable amount of time. In October 2019, Google also claimed it reached quantum supremacy, though this claim was disputed.
Some experts, like Intel’s director of quantum hardware, Jim Clarke, think that the real goal should be “quantum practicality” he told IEEE, referring to the point when quantum computers can actually do something life-changing and unique. And researchers believe that slowly and steadily quantum computers will march into the enterprise domain, doing things that would have been otherwise unthinkable.
A sea of opportunities for the enterprise
The various experiments and initiatives with quantum computing by the big tech and other innovative companies are creating a sea of opportunities before CIOs and IT departments to apply the technology into the real-world settings.
Quantum computers are ideally suited for solving complex optimization tasks and performing fast searches of unsorted data, as Prashanth Kaddi, Partner, Deloitte India mentions, “it has the potential to bring disruptive transformation across sectors, including diagnosis, medicine research, distribution supply chain, city planning, traffic flow, energy optimization and many more.”
Quantum computing also significantly reduces time to market, as well as helps in optimizing customer delivery. For example, a pharmaceutical company might significantly reduce the time to market for new drugs. In finance, it could enable faster, more complex Monte Carlo simulations, such as trading, trajectory optimization, market instability and price optimization strategies, and many more.
Several organizations are already using the same to solve real world critical problems. For example, the banking enterprises are trying to addresses the challenges like portfolio optimization, risk analysis, fraud detection, market predictions with the help of quantum computers. For example, IBM and Cleveland Clinic are working together to establish the Discovery Accelerator, a joint Cleveland Clinic – IBM center with the mission of fundamentally advancing the pace of discovery in healthcare and life sciences through the use of high performance computing on the hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing technologies.
Again, JP Morgan Chase and Co along with IBM is developing improved methodologies for financial modeling including option pricing and risk analysis. Another firm, ExxonMobil plans to solve the logistical impossibility of moving the world’s cleanest-burning fuel LPG across the globe in partnership with IBM Quantum.
Further, Mitsubishi Chemical is applying quantum computing to help develop lithium-air batteries with greater energy density in partnership with IBM Quantum. IBM and the University of Tokyo formed the Japan – IBM Quantum Partnership, a broad national partnership framework in which other universities, industry, and government can engage.
Another example for quantum computers’ use is traffic optimization as was done by Volkswagen with D-Wave tries to solve the problem of traveling salesman and their efficiency. In the logistics sector, Alibaba is already experimenting with quantum technologies to bolster its hardware and network infrastructure.
Venkata Subramaniam, Senior Manager – AI Science and IBM Quantum Ambassador, IBM Research India, says, “In 2021, we saw some use cases where businesses could put quantum computing to work. By incorporating quantum computing into their workflow to explore reducing carbon emissions, companies like Goldman Sachs were able to implement algorithms that could explore sophisticated pricing models. Quantum Optimization will address logistics and supply chain, enabling companies to solve complex problems at unprecedented speed.
“Finance with its complex mathematical problems that require quick solutions is another area that is likely to benefit immensely. Another field that will immensely benefit from quantum computing is Chemistry. It can help discover new materials, new drugs, new fertilizers, new energy-efficient batteries, new display sources, new bio-friendly plastics, and many more. Further quantum is likely to speed up AI, affecting almost every industry today,” he says.
Deloitte predicts globally that the multiple companies making quantum computers will double their QCs’ quantum volume—the number and reliability of the quantum bits (qubits) available for computation—from what it was in 2021.
Kaddi mentions that while quantum computing is in the emerging phase as far as industry application is concerned, edge computing (EC) is already here. EC is changing the way data is stored and processed across many applications. It has found many uses especially in IoT device integration, autonomous vehicle usage, healthcare devices, etc.
“One example where edge computing was used to great effect was by a jewelry retail company. Rather than using a data center for surveillance purposes, they implemented edge computing infrastructure in their showrooms. This saved them the latency of transmitting video footage to the data center as well as the issues thereof to get analytics run on the footage,” he says.
There’s still a long way to go
Despite the huge leap, there are more practical challenges that need to be overcome before the technology’s large-scale impact is achievable. Subramaniam sees the biggest challenge is the availability of skills. According to him, “Quantum requires a new way of thinking, and that requires the right education to be imparted. Organizations need to invest in building quantum teams.”
Another challenge, he points out is the lack of awareness about the technology’s disruptive potential. Most industries have their own big, intractable challenges for which quantum computers offer potential solutions. So businesses in finance, energy, chemistry, AI, and other fields should get familiar with quantum computing, and identify business workflows, understand bottlenecks due to computational limitations – that can be addressed using quantum computers.
“We estimate that there are only about 3,000 skilled quantum workers in the market today. That base needs to be doubled or quadrupled to exploit the full potential of quantum this decade and beyond,” he says.
For that to happen, Subramaniam recommends that the industry needs to engage the critical constituencies of organizational IT teams and students that enable quantum computing skills to blossom. These include quantum developer certification, as well as Boot camp-like educational programs and investments in university curricula that empower a diverse workforce. These hands-on programs provide the access and tools to create and run quantum computing algorithms on actual quantum computing hardware or simulators.
Gartner researchers too believe that currently, there’s a vast gap to be bridged before quantum computers can do more meaningful things — such as simulating the properties of materials or chemical reactions, or accelerating drug discovery or even step up the network security of enterprise.
“Another major hurdle to scaling up the technology is the issue of dealing with errors. Compared to bits, qubits are incredibly fragile. Even the slightest disturbance from the outside world is enough to destroy quantum information. That’s why most current machines need to be carefully shielded in isolated environments operating at temperatures far colder than outer space,” they say.
“While a theoretical framework for quantum error correction has been developed, implementing it in an energy- and resource-efficient manner poses significant engineering challenges. IT organizations should also consider patenting AI and quantum-inspired innovations within specific domains, considering algorithms that can produce innovative solutions and new approaches to product development,” says Rahul Dev, a Delhi-based technology business lawyer.
However, Quantum computers could run algorithms that could break the public key encryption we use today. Kaddi mentions that with nearness to point of consumption of the computing power being the core aspect of edge computing, some security considerations outside the data center are emerging which enterprise risk and security teams have to contend with.
Anand Patil, Director, Systems Engineering, Cisco India and SAARC, agrees that organizations that could be at risk in the future need to start evaluating “post-quantum” cryptography. “Simply put, this means moving to algorithms and/or keys that are a lot more robust and can withstand a brute-force attack by a quantum computer –i.e. quantum resistant.
He however adds, “The good news is, there are methods available to adopt strong encryption techniques that will remain secure even after quantum computers are generally available. An organization can protect its sensitive data over the long term by evaluating post-quantum secure encryption techniques today. By leveraging existing networking infrastructure and adding suitable post-quantum key distribution techniques, it is possible to take a “quantum leap” in securing your data.”
Plenty of hope on the horizon
Even though these are early days and there are many hurdles to overcome, Kiran Raj, Principal Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData, believes that quantum computers are gearing up to be a transformative reality.
“Despite such challenges, quantum computers will continue to progress into the future where companies may rent them to solve everyday problems – the way they currently rent cloud services,” he says.
Today, quantum computers are already available over the cloud from multiple vendors enabling enterprises to access and start using them immediately. This allows exploring solutions as the technology evolves. Further, platform providers have created programs to help enterprises with their quantum journey.
In 2024, developers will be able to call over 1,000 qubit services from Cloud APIs, and investigate error correction. And by 2025, they will be able to take advantage of enhanced quantum workflows through HPC and quantum resources, informs Subramaniam.
Looking to 2025 and beyond, frictionless quantum computing is set to become a reality. Subramaniam says, “We hope that by 2030, companies and users are running billions, if not a trillion quantum circuits a day, perhaps without even realizing that they’re doing so.”
A Gartner survey found that 44% of enterprises expect quantum to have a substantial impact on businesses in the next 3-5 years. Another Gartner study predicts that by 2023, 20% of organizations will be budgeting for quantum computing projects compared to less than 1% today.
IDC too sees 2021 as a pivotal year in the quantum computing industry. Strategic approaches implemented to reach quantum advantage became more defined as vendors published quantum computing road-maps emphasizing methods for improving qubit scaling and error correction, sought new funding opportunities by going public or partnering with government, educational, or private entities, or merged in anticipation of offering a more full-stack approach.
For most vendors, these approaches included the further development of the quantum ecosystem. This trend promises to continue into 2022 and beyond as quantum computing vendors progress towards quantum advantage and enterprise businesses seek a competitive advantage using current and emerging quantum technologies, says IDC.
“For many critical problems, classical computing will run out of steam in the next decade and we will see quantum computing take over as the next generation of performance-intensive computing,” said Peter Rutten, global research lead for performance intensive computing at IDC.
CIOs should look for potential opportunities from quantum computing and be ready to help the business leverage them. These opportunities will need to be fully integrated with traditional IT, and will require new cross-collaboration from research scientists, computational data scientists and quantum data scientists. This new development paradigm is critical to the success of any quantum program.
While Quantum computers may not replace the traditional computers by 2022 or in the near future, they are already working hand-in-hand to solve computationally complex problems that classical computers can’t handle quickly enough by themselves.
The time is now ripe for enterprises to start experimenting using quantum road maps to guide their quantum journey. As Subramaniam comments, “More and more companies today are realizing that quantum offers them an opportunity to solve tough unsolvable problems enabling them to gain a competitive advantage and any technology leader who isn’t actively building quantum into their plans risks being left behind.”