The time for quantum computing is approaching

By Doug Finke

This article provides an overview of the current state of quantum computing for those who are just beginning to take an interest in the field. For those interested in learning more, we recommend watching a recent panel discussion video from the recent HPE Discover 2022 event in Las Vegas, Nevada. Besides myself, other panel members included Kirk Bresniker, HPE Fellow, Vice President and Chief Architect, Hewlett Packard Labs, Yehuda Naveh, Co-Founder and CTO of Classiq, and Dr. Shini Somara, Moderator and Journalist specialized in television technologies.


So, is quantum computing ready to take off and disrupt industries as we know them? As an analyst and editor on all things quantum, I hear variations on this question every day. My answer is to fall back on the decades-old “Amara’s Law”, which states that: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short term and underestimate the effect in the long term. . »

In other words, I’m excited about the prospects, but cautious about overly promising revolutionary breakthroughs anytime soon.

First of all, what exactly is quantum computing? It is an emerging technology that uses quantum mechanics to perform calculations. Quantum computers exploit the quantum mechanical phenomena of superposition, entanglement and interference which allow the creation of new types of algorithms capable of performing certain calculations much faster than classical computers.

Governments realize this. China has announced plans to invest $15.3 billion in quantum computing over the next five years, with the EU and the US investing more than $7.2 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively. of dollars. Other countries, including Japan, the UK, India and Canada, are also funding quantum technology with over $1 billion each. Investors are too. Investments in quantum startups topped $1.4 billion in 2021, more than double the previous year, according to McKinsey.

Entry into the “Quantum Ready” phase

Although the current generation of quantum computers are not yet powerful enough to surpass the capabilities of the classical computer for commercially relevant applications, quantum technology is advancing very rapidly, and we expect a few quantum applications to become viable in the next 2-3 years. . Many companies are looking for a competitive advantage in their industry by starting quantum programs now in order to learn about the technology and take advantage of it when more powerful processors become available. A survey of more than 500 business leaders conducted last year by Classiq, a quantum software company, found that 89.8% believe IT departments should have a budget specifically for quantum computing technologies, and 61.9% say their company has already allocated a budget for quantum computing.

A critical challenge in quantum computing technology is the relatively high error rates associated with qubit quantum gates due to their extreme sensitivity to perturbations from the external environment. Researchers are working hard to combat this, and the industry believes that the development of quantum computing will fall into two phases.

The current phase is called NISQ, meaning Noisy, Intermediate Scale Quantum. Although engineers cannot completely eliminate the noise that causes inaccuracies in the system, they develop techniques to reduce it. And smart programmers develop algorithms that can produce useful solutions to certain application problems despite the remaining noise level. We anticipate that there will be a few commercial applications that will soon become viable with NISQ level computers.

The next phase is called Fault Tolerant Quantum Computing where engineers develop error correction algorithms that will effectively eliminate the problem of errors for the programmer so that he can develop many other commercial quantum applications. Creating these fault-tolerant quantum computers remains a difficult challenge and will require much more powerful processors than exist today. However, we expect several organizations to succeed and make these machines available by the end of the decade.

Where quantum computing can make a difference

Although quantum computers don’t do much for common consumer applications like email, web browsing, or accounting, there are still plenty of great applications where it should make a difference.

Quantum computing will only be commercially useful when it can solve certain types of problems that are impossible or extremely difficult for a classical computer to solve, a situation we call “Quantum Advantage”. Using a quantum computer to simulate chemical reactions at the quantum level is a very natural and extremely important class of applications. Applications of this type include drug discovery, materials design, and key issues associated with climate change such as carbon capture and solar energy conversion.

Optimization will be another major type of applications where quantum technology can bring benefits. Many industries will find that they can better optimize their business operations through quantum computing. For example, the financial industry will be able to develop enhanced portfolio optimizations, credit risk analysis, Monte Carlo modeling and trading strategies. Any organization that deals with logistics will be able to use quantum technology for things like vehicle routing, network optimization, or optimizing manufacturing processes and flows.

And a third type of application will be for quantum machine learning capabilities. Quantum can potentially provide significant speedups or improved accuracy over a classical computational approach for various machine learning problems. These can include things like fraud detection and money laundering protection for financial companies, image recognition and neural network training.

Quantum and classical computers will be used in tandem

Will quantum computers ever replace classical computers? Not likely. Although quantum computers may eventually replace some conventional high-performance computers, there are a large number of tasks for which a quantum computer is not well suited, such as reading email, managing a website Web, maintaining a database of financial transactions, browsing the Internet, calculating bank balances, and most other tasks we perform on computers today.

In fact, many people believe that most quantum computing will be done with quantum and classical collaboration. They believe it will be similar to how GPUs are used today as co-processors supporting the main classic processor.

Quantum encryption issue

One of the issues people are talking about today is a threat that quantum computing could pose in the distant future. As quantum computers grow in power, experts believe they will be able to crack the RSA encryption used by computers on the internet today. It won’t happen right away, but it could happen in 10 to 15 years. This poses a problem for data that has a long lifespan, such as medical records. There are solutions called Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC) and QKD (Quantum Key Distribution). Business leaders should start planning for this, as they may need to upgrade thousands of systems in their organization to make them quantum proof.

Developing a Quantum Workforce

While there is still work to be done on the hardware, software, algorithms and design of quantum systems, skills development should also be high on the priority list. The lack of availability of trained people could be what limits the growth of the industry. Fortunately, governments and private industry groups are beginning to come up with solutions to the problem and train people.

A number of organizations, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the White House Quantum Coordinating Office, and the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) all have programs to help build a quantum work Force. I work on a QED-C initiative designed to inspire students to get involved and help faculty develop curricula. It will take a lot of work, but progress is being made.

Recommendations

While the true impact of quantum is still likely a few years from now, there are things IT managers can do to prepare for a quantum future.

  • Prepare for the RSA pause: Although this is purely defensive, IT managers should start a program now. Simply converting systems to become quantum resilient from using RSA-based encryption to using a new approach will take many years. It will take 5-10 years for a large company to find all the systems and convert them to be quantum proof.
  • Take inventory of computer systems: find out what data you need to protect that will have a long life and what systems work with this type of data.
  • Identify quantum use cases: Examine all the different IT processes within the organization and determine which ones could be accelerated or improved by using quantum technology.
  • Improve quantum skills: As quantum computers develop, IT managers will need skilled operators. Start defining job roles for a quantum environment and seek candidates to fill those roles. Also consider whether it makes sense to engage external consultants who can help you on your journey to implementing quantum technologies within your organization.

Conclusion

To quantum enthusiasts who hope that computers will change the world right away, here’s my advice: be patient. The quantum is coming. We are seeing incremental breakthroughs every year and dollars are being invested to advance the technology. Also, do not underestimate its future impact. Start taking action today to take advantage of technology that will serve you well tomorrow.

July 10, 2022

Sherry J. Basler