Making sense out of Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing (QC) attracting media attention. Google and IBM are claiming success in overcoming technological constrains and getting closer to the functioning prototypes. Gartner research suggests that through 2023, 20% of the organizations would have some budget allocations (directly or indirectly) hitting Quantum Computing projects.

So, what is it, how to leverage, when and is there an opportunity to harness today?

Brief intro into computations. Our brain perform calculations consciously (when calculating something) or subconsciously (when walking, running, doing repetitive task etc.). There are few constrains with it. To feel the limit of in-memory brain computations think of how many digits of number π (/paɪ/) you can recall and try to multiply it by 78, and/or by 649. For more complex calculations we use pen and paper. With semiconductors being discovered, (and some mechanical options in between) we got an opportunity to process much larger volumes of data and perform more complex computations. This brought us modern silence and technology as we know it.

Quantum computing is a potential leap in the way to do computations. Today computations rely on discrete Bits (0 and 1) and stored program (predefined sequence). Quantum offers vector-based (Qubits) computation approach that operates complex numbers and algebraic operations that permit parallel computations due to sub-particle physical characteristics.

Technology is based on physical infrastructure that can be of few types. See the figure below that suggest popularity of each and investments made by top tech giants. Superconducting circuits leading by the number of tech giants involved and investment volume. 

It is worth noting that c.50% of organizations involved into the industry are China techno-giants. Perhaps fact that in 2016 Chinese government called out quantum computing a strategic initiative explains the disproportion. China committed to contribute 10 USDb into the industry. Venture capitalists are also increasing funding of the technology since few years. For instance, in 2016 investments are estimated to be at 80 USDm, where as in 2017 figure reached 209 USDm.

There are challenges that organization involved into R&D and prototyping of quantum computing are trying to address. Among other, there are infrastructure stability, error correction, qubit connectivity and coverage of classical computations. In my view ability to perform classical computations is the most challenging when it comes to business and adoption. Not only that you can’t run your favorite ERP on, but that algorithms that we developed over the past 50+ years for semiconductor computations are not relevant and have to be rethought.

Some researches, like Forester predict that it will take at least five years before quantum computers are capable enough to disrupt any industry. Let’s have a look into the use cases and thinking that researchers put behind the quantum computing:

Machine Learning (including Deep Learning). Quantum computing can significantly accelerate the computational efficiency of Machine Learning models. Imaging processing psychology of the human being on the level of basic particles interaction, like protons, electrons. Sounds like a wild fantasy, but psychology of one is nothing but a set of basic particles coming into matter, that are brought together into cells that constitute us human beings, that rely on cognition for decision making. Healthcare, Chemistry, Materials, Finance are some of the industries that are expected to benefit as we embark on this journey. Think of better, more durable materials, deciphering DNA in real-time, economical decision making and policy adjustments done in real-time.

Cryptography. There are two things that quantum research is concerned when talking about cryptography. First is about computations, in particular factorization that is in the core of modern encryption algorithms. To be more specific anything concerning security data communication across internet relies on asymmetric encryption that is based on factoring. Some predict that in 10 years quantum computers would be able to break encryption level that are taking decades now using modern age super computers. The second part leverages security aspect of communication that quantum can offer already today.   In 2012, a Chinese team developed quantum key distribution approach that is immune to all hacking strategies on detection. It may pretty much mean ultimate privacy, confidentiality possibly overall security of the communication.

From the attempts of the IBM, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei we can figure out that QC would be almost exclusively offered as Cloud service. Perhaps complexity of the installation, management and support explains the reasons behind. Quantum circuits are extremely sensitive to the noise and require extreme temperatures and special conditions to operate. Gartner research predicts that through 2023, 95% of organizations researching quantum computing strategies will utilize quantum computing as a service (QCaaS).

It appears that we are seeing development of another breakthrough in our technological development allowing us to perform much more complex computation. Unlike before there are tools available to help us get up to the speed in acquiring the new quantum skills. Happy to offer some examples of software development kits and emulated environment available from Microsoft (Quantum Development Kit), Google (Cirq), IBM (Qiskit), D-Wave (Ocean). There are also bunch of general knowledge courses on quantum computing available at edX, Futurelearn, MIT xPRO.