News & Analysis

Is It Time to Prepare for the Quantum Future?

Race for quantum supremacy gathers momentum with several tech companies joining bandwagon, making quantum computing an everyday tool for business

quantum

The rapid growth in the quantum tech sector over the past five years has been exciting, even though the progress was largely confined to research rooms. However, in the last one year, quantum computing has gathered pace with several big techs declaring their quantum supremacy and many others joining the bandwagon. Analysts believe, quantum computers may now come one step closer to reality to solve certain real-life business problems that are beyond the capability of conventional computers.

The quantum race is already underway

Governments and private investors all around the world are pouring billions of dollars into quantum research and development. Satellite-based quantum key distribution for encryption has been demonstrated, laying the groundwork for a potential quantum security-based global communication network. IBM, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and other companies are investing heavily in developing large-scale quantum computing hardware and software.

An analysis of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center reveals that various companies are in the race to monetize quantum computing as an everyday tool for business. For example, IBM’s latest quantum computer is reportedly accessible via cloud, boasts a 65-qubit Hummingbird chip. It is an advanced version of System Q, its first commercial quantum computer launched in 2019 that has 20 qubits. IBM plans to launch a 1,000-qubit system by the end of 2023.

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. Alibaba is the second enterprise to offer the service to public after IBM.

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.

Amazon, unlike the tech companies competing to launch quantum computers, is making quantum products of other companies available to users via Braket. It currently supports quantum computing services from D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti.

Exploring quantum opportunity

There’s a sea of opportunities before CIOs and IT departments with quantum computing experiments being applied into the real-world settings. It could also significantly reduce time to market, as well as optimize 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.

Quantum computers are also ideally suited for solving complex optimization tasks and performing fast searches of unsorted data. This could be relevant for many applications, from sorting climate data or health or financial data, to optimizing supply chain logistics, or workforce management, or traffic flow.

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, Barclays and JP Morgan Chase has partnered with IBM and NatWest has aligned with Fujitsu to bring the technology to real-life usage. 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. Again, post-quantum cryptography or quantum blockchain is a good preparation for the secured future. Accenture has already mentioned blockchain with quantum. There’s also a trend among cybersecurity companies to look at post-quantum cryptography or algorithms which are safe to operate in a world with powerful quantum computers.

Preparing for the quantum future

Quantum computing and quantum communication could impact many sectors, including healthcare, energy, finance, security, and entertainment. According to Allied Market Research, by 2023, 20% of organizations, including businesses and governments, are expected to budget for quantum-computing projects, up from less than 1% in 2018.

However, significant practical challenges need to be overcome before this level of large-scale impact is achievable. Gartner researchers 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. 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.

Kiran Raj, Principal Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData, believes “Albeit a far cry from the large-scale mainstream use, 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.

“It may not come as a surprise in the near future that quantum computing becomes the mainstream technology to help industries tackle problems they never would have attempted to solve before, Raj says.

While it’s early days for the quantum industry, the impact of AI and blockchain has demonstrated the need to consider the social, ethical, and environmental implications of new technologies. Likewise, it provides an opportunity for CIOs to embed inclusive practices from the start and build a responsible and sustainable roadmap for quantum computing.

By planning responsibly, while also embracing future uncertainty, businesses can improve their odds of being ready for the quantum future.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com