After a lot of theorising, companies and research institutions are now announcing plans that bring real-world quantum computers close to reality.
Quantum computing is coming – but what will it mean for organisations and industries?
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing uses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for traditional computers.
Quantum bits (or qubits) are the basic unit of information in quantum computing but, unlike the traditional bit, it can be a one, a zero or both at the same time, so quantum computing breaks free from the constraints of traditional binary code. These qubits can be entangled into multi-qubit states, enabling powerful quantum computation.
Today’s digital computers struggle with calculations that involve finding the optimal arrangements of items, because they must work through each permutation to find the best. This can take an enormous number of calculations and, the more complicated the code, the more processing power required, and the longer the processing takes.
A quantum computer, on the other hand, uses the multiplicity of states in the quantum world to work through possibilities simultaneously and at much greater speed.
The real-life applications this opens up will benefit a wide range of industries in a multitude of ways, some of which we’re yet to fathom. However, the industry uses are likely to focus on two key benefits:
- the ability to handle complexity and vast amounts of data
- the sheer speed of calculations, scenario assessment and pattern recognition.
Quantum computing is adept at handling complexity
Perhaps the most astounding benefit of quantum computing is its capacity to process complex problems beyond the capabilities of today’s digital computers – even down to the molecular level. Chemical and biological engineering researchers are excited about the possibilities of discovering, mapping and manipulating molecules, using quantum computing to understand the motion and interaction of subatomic particles. This could open the door to being able to create a room-temperature superconductor, removing carbon dioxide for a better climate, and creating solid-state batteries.
And over in pharmacology, researchers will be able to model and simulate interactions between drugs and all 20,000+ proteins encoded in the human genome, pushing knowledge forward and accelerating current efforts in materials discovery and drug development. Quantum computing will provide an effective way of understanding drugs and their reactions on humans, making more drug options available.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will also benefit from quantum developments that can process complex problems and recognise patterns in less time than conventional computers.
As a result, diagnostics in healthcare will improve and healthcare professionals will be able to optimise targeted treatments such as radiotherapy by modelling complex scenarios to identify the optimum treatment path. Fraud detection in finance, too, is reliant upon pattern recognition, and quantum computing can potentially improve detection rates.
However, quantum computing’s ability to process complex calculations will also force industries to change how they do things, most notably so far in the arena of cybersecurity. Quantum computing has the potential to be able to crack the mathematics that underpins much of the current cryptography that’s used to secure networks. The type of algorithms that are most affected are ‘asymmetric’ algorithms used in key exchange, digital signatures and Public Key Infrastructure certificate-based authentication. But, as well as a threat, quantum computing can also be the solution. Post-Quantum Cryptography will use quantum computing to keep all the functionality of existing cryptography, at the same time as upgrading it to be much harder for quantum computers to break.
Quantum computing unlocks record calculation speeds
For other industries, the sheer speed of quantum computing is the leading draw. Computing speed has long been a source of advantage in financial markets where hedge funds compete to achieve millisecond advantages in obtaining price information. Quantum computing means the faster calculation of massive, complex scenarios to find the right mix for fruitful investments based on expected returns. Plus, quantum algorithms can increase the speed of market variables analysis, automatically triggering high-frequency trading.
Calculation speed is also important in areas such as weather forecasting. Currently, the process of analysing weather conditions by traditional computers can sometimes take longer than the weather itself does to change and, at best, limits forecasters’ ability to warn of weather events. Quantum computing will be able to crunch huge amounts of data at speed, enhancing weather modelling by improving pattern recognition to make prediction more accurate, increasing the amount of warning that can be given. It’ll also be able to generate greater insight into climate change and mitigation.
Sifting through possibilities at speed is vital in sectors such as manufacturing and industrial design, too. Developing a working product traditionally takes draft after draft and test after test. However, quantum computing can identify the most effective option rapidly, delivering better designs for a better product.
Rapid modelling also has significant, positive implications for logistics and supply chain efficiency. It’ll unlock real-time optimisation, allowing continuous calculation of optimal routes of traffic management, fleet operations, air traffic control and freight and distribution.
Welcome to a quantum-powered world
The possibilities of quantum computing are, perhaps, beyond full comprehension right now, but there’s clear potential in every industry.
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