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April 6, 2023
5 Min Read
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Quantum computing -- which could bring monumental problem-solving capabilities through sub-atomic “qubits” -- is capturing imaginations as the next big leap for information technology.
Businesses and governments are pouring billions of dollars into quantum technology research that will quite likely change (but not replace) computing as we know it today. According to P&S Intelligence, quantum computing will be a $5.2 billion market by 2030. That market potential has created a lot of buzz. But quantum computing experts caution the technology’s full potential will take years or even decades to realize.
Quantum computing uses quantum physics to solve problems that are too complex for classical bit-based computers. But it’s important to understand that quantum computers will not replace classical computing -- they are seen as an accelerator or companion to classical computing that will be used for very specific tasks. “You won’t be opening a Microsoft Word document or streaming video with a quantum computer,” says Sam Lucero, chief quantum computing analyst at Omdia. The advantage will come in areas of optimization that will benefit things like manufacturing processes, logistics, finance, chemical modeling, machine learning, and more.
Between headline-grabbing AI advancements, and ever-increasing cybersecurity threats and attacks, emerging technology is consuming our business and government leaders’ attention at a feverish pace. Quantum computing can be seen as both a solution and a massive risk –- with the capability to crack current encryption methods easily. Making computing “quantum cyber ready” is driving much of the research that has become an arms race between companies and countries. Business leaders, however, are more excited about the less salacious aspects of quantum computing that could dial into better profits and more efficiency.
Quantum’s Logistics Advantage
One area where Omdia’s Lucero sees the most promise commercially is in the area of “combinatorial optimization,” that is, solutions that require an increasing level of computation power with increasing variables. A quantum computer, for example, may one day be able to handle thousands of tasks with multiple variations (such as multiple satellite positioning, which would be an impossible task for classical computers). Such logistic capabilities would free up power-hungry super computers and create more efficiency in data centers globally.
“If you have a problem that can be put into an algorithm that leverages the parallelism of quantum computers, that’s where you can get a very dramatic potential speed up,” Lucero says. “If you have a problem that for every additional variable, you add to the problem, and doubles the computational complexity -- that is probably a good candidate to be adapted into a quantum computational problem.”
The so-called “traveling salesperson problem,” for example, would be a fitting problem for a quantum computer. The algorithm asks the following: “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city.” This and other combinatorial optimization problems are important to theoretical computer science because of the complexity of variations involved. Used as a benchmark, the algorithm can be applied to planning, logistics, microchip manufacturing and even DNA sequencing. In theory, a quantum computer could make quick work of this complicated algorithm and provide greater efficiency for programming.
Quantum’s Potential Could Boost Sustainability Efforts
Businesses will benefit from having access to previously unattainable solutions, Lucero says. “I think of this as the tractability advantage -- what people used to refer to as quantum supremacy -- where a quantum computer unlocks a solution and achieves something that wasn’t going to be possible on a classical computer.”
William D. Oliver, director of MIT’s Center for Quantum Engineering, says quantum’s potential could unlock new products that are more sustainable. He says quantum can take us beyond approximating and guesswork -- and that will advance new technologies and discoveries exponentially.
“We care a lot about the environment and quantum computing could be quite impactful . . . We know we’re going to need better batteries, or different ways to sequester carbon, and different manufacturing processes,” Oliver says. “And we can do those things if we can simulate those materials or systems. And it’s for those types of problems that quantum computers will process to really advance the field and allow us to look at things we just wouldn’t find otherwise with conventional computers.”
Omdia’s Lucero says greater efficiencies will also contribute to sustainability efforts being embraced by business leaders globally. While quantum computers will likely have their own intense power needs, they will be able to spread energy consumption and make shorter work of complex problems now being handled by power hungry super computers. “It is a complicated picture, but my overall sense at this point is that it should be a net benefit to energy use,” he says. “You should be able to use far less computational power to get the result you’re now getting from a high-performance computer server cluster.”
A Quantum Leap is Likely Years Away
Countries are banking on quantum computing’s huge commercial upside to anchor future economies. “For quantum computing, the future growth is in business,” Lucero says. “And from a national security standpoint, there’s also a very strong concern about economic security and economic benefits. As with any deep tech, this is seen as a future area of economic competitiveness.”
MIT’s Oliver says business leaders should temper their excitement -- large scale quantum computing is likely years or even decades away. “There’s a lot of hype in the general public that something’s going to happen quickly (with quantum computing),” Oliver says. “And the hype is there because the promise is real, but we know that it’s going to take longer than a year. I think many companies out there want to understand how this new technology is going to affect the bottom line in five or 10 years.”
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About the Author(s)
Senior Writer, InformationWeek, InformationWeek
Shane Snider is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career as a general assignment reporter and has covered government, business, education, technology and much more. He was a reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Raleigh News and Observer and most recently a tech reporter for CRN. He was also a top wedding photographer for many years, traveling across the country and around the world. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.
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