Quantum Computer

Essay

Quantum computing

It is now the time to act

Quantum computing is set to revolutionize all aspects of digital business – from cryptography over material development to capacity optimization. Its progress is making headlines and the German government explicitly dedicated 2 billion Euros as part of its Corona economic recovery package. However what use cases, and particularly which timeline, is to be expected?

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Quantum Computing with very high impact in all aspects (Source: Gartner, Emerging Technologies and Trends Impact Radar)

To understand the potential impact of quantum computing in the first place, it is important to gather insights of the principal enabler behind the technology, which is a phenomenon called superposition. Simply speaking, the essential quantum computing building blocks (‘Qubits’) are able to simultaneously exist in all possible states, as opposed to classical computer bits which can only be in one state (On or Off) at the same time. With every additional qubit, all previously possible states can be generated in combination with the extra |0⟩ and |1⟩, respectively.

Consequently, the number of possible states doubles with every qubit that gets added to the register. Thus, the growth of possible states is exponential and the meaning of this is revealed for larger Qubit collections. A small example: On earth, there are approximately 7.8 billion people. To build a quantum computer which is able to process the same number of states, only 33 qubits are necessary. This capacity shows why quantum computing is considered a breakthrough technology.

Considering that today’s largest quantum computers operate with around 100 qubits, it is natural to ask why, besides Google’s “Quantum Supremacy” experiment in 2019 (demonstrating a task that a quantum computer could solve much faster than a classical computer) with 53 qubits, there has not been many more media breakthroughs in the field. The quick answer is that quantum superiority was demonstrated for a very specific task that was ideal for today’s quantum computers. This is because today’s quantum computers are still very error-prone and can only be operated stably for short periods of time. The good answer, however, is that technological advances and steady increases in the number of usable qubits will ensure that most likely in the very near future there will be relevant problems which a quantum computer can solve faster and/or better than any classical computer.

Quantum computing is currently considered to be at Technology Readiness Level 5; the primary obstacle to be overcome is the error correction. Multiple approaches to error correction are explored, nevertheless important players such as IBM are predicting >1000 qubits by 2023 – a level which allows for Proof of Concept implementations.

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Quantum computing is currently considered to be at Technology Readiness Level 5; the primary obstacle to be overcome is the error correction. (Source: Forschungszentrum Jülich)

It is to be expected that quantum computing can be used for many applications in a wide range of industries. This refers often to certain simulation and optimization methods, which cannot be solved with conventional calculation methods. An example from industry is the simulation and optimization of manufacturing processes with complex supply chains. Another problem is the joint optimization of intermodal traffic and logistics in real time.

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Use case exploration and problem mapping go along with skill building (Source: IBM Quantum Development Roadmap)

However, use case exploration is only just beginning and we certainly cannot see the tip of the iceberg yet. In the future, with the development and market penetration of quantum computing application, areas will grow and develop in new fields that are currently still undreamt-of. A positive potential, which we see in quantum computing, is to optimize environmental and sustainability aspects as well as identify and leverage improvements.

Regarding cybersecurity, quantum computing poses the risk that today's encryption and authentication methods become insecure. This could have serious impact on many digital services and digitized processes developed today. For instance, in distributed systems with a long service life such as infrastructure or construction, this must already be considered now.

For companies, the question which currently arises is which strategy should be considered the right one to approach the potential of quantum computing. Regarding the technology readiness level and global development, the following fields of action are currently under intense development.

  • Building partnerships
  • Education and training
  • Creation of teams of specialists
  • Integration in the innovation process and R&D

It is now the time to act. The broad public funding enables also small and medium-sized companies to engage in quantum computing. Doing this in the right manner returns in innovation leadership and a superior future positioning.


* This article has been created in cooperation with David Niehaus, Head of Product at Anaqor.

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