Make no mistake! The technology industry leaders hate to lose. Actually, one should say they hate others winning. And so it was that when Google claimed success in Quantum Supremacy, a term that was meant to suggest the supremacy of quantum computers over classical ones, hardware behemoth IBM immediately raised its hand in objection.
On the one hand Google CEO Sundar Pichai was claiming that his engineers had done something similar to what the Wright Brothers did a century ago, and on the other we had IBM taking potshots at their claims suggesting that one doesn’t need quantum supremacy to produce gibberish as output! Of course, the verdict is still out though one isn’t exactly sure who would be the judge in this case, given the formidable bias that each of the jury members are bound to have to their own brand logo.
For the moment though, let’s assume that Google did what it claims to have done and pursue the narrative down that road. Here is how that pathway looks today:
The Business End
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.
It predicts the global enterprise quantum-computing market is expected to reach $5.85 billion by 2025, up from $650 million in 2017, 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.
There’s an ocean of opportunities before CIOs and IT department once quantum computing experiments can be applied into the real-world settings. The IT department should treat it as competitive advantage by patenting quantum-inspired innovations within specific domains, considering algorithms that can produce innovative solutions and new approaches to product development.
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.
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.
Other industries such as energy, insurance, automotive and aerospace and chemical and pharma, among others have started experimenting with quantum computing and exploring options to venture into this space.
Beyond the Quantum
Analysts see a quantum gold rush is underway, with investors joining governments and companies to pour large sums of money into developing quantum technologies. It is therefore hardly surprising then that IBM, Microsoft, Google, Intel, and other heavyweights are moving ahead in the race of the next-gen computing challenges.
Google’s research team built a superconducting quantum processor named Sycamore that harnesses the weirdness of quantum physics to crunch through some of the world’s most complicated problems, scientists at IBM who are working to commercialize their own quantum computer, is currently working out the kinks with its recently-built next-generation 50-qubit chip by 2020 to explore solutions to larger problems. The Big Blue’s goal is for a quantum computer to solve computationally-intensive problems that could add business value across different industries.
Earlier In March, Microsoft partnered with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington to form a coalition called the Northwest Quantum Nexus, which aims to promote the development of quantum computing in the Pacific Northwest region. The tech major has built quantum development kit, which includes a programming language for quantum applications called Q# that is available as open source which means it is free for anyone to use download or modify.
From Hype to Reality
Despite the momentum, analysts believe we are currently living through quantum winter – that is, the risk that hype outpaces development, potentially having a negative impact on perceptions and investments.
In reality, today’s quantum machines have at the best a few dozen quantum bits, or qubits, and they are often beset by computation-destroying noise. Researchers are still decades — and many thousands of qubits — away from general-purpose quantum computers, ones that could solve complex problems such as factoring large numbers and apply them in the real-world setting.
So, while a team at Google led by John Martinis, Google’s chief scientist of quantum hardware, demonstrated a quantum computer that can outperform conventional machines, the fact remains that such ‘quantum supremacy’ is expected to be extremely limited and its business impact miniscule. As Matthew Brisse, an analyst at technology research and advisory firm Gartner, who specializes in data-center and cloud infrastructure told Wall Street Journal, “Google’s experiment “is proof we are making forward progress…but from the end-user standpoint it’s a non-event.”
Ciarán Gilligan-Lee at University College London noted in his blog that the project is an important validation, opening the way to the next stage of experimentation, is capable of achieving a single goal but impractical for use in our daily lives.
Media hype often raises awareness but at the same time, unrealistic expectations are being fuelled that powerful general-purpose quantum computers could soon be on the horizon. Such misguided optimism could be dangerous for the future of this fledgling field, especially as the technology requires sustained and focused investment for the long term.
New technologies have raised our expectations, from time to time. It needs to be understood that the powerful processors that underpin today’s devices such as PCs and smartphones were developed from decades of sustained investment in research.
Quantum processors will go through a similar seismic shift where enthusiasts will be able to play with quantum computers from their homes and businesses will seamlessly use the technology to gain competitive edge. And this shift may occur much sooner than most of us realize.
Till such time, Google can claim the Quantum of Solace of exploring the glass ceiling above and creating some headroom.