It is likely that we are on the cusp of a new age in computing called quantum computing. This new area of computing will represent the biggest breakthrough in computer technology since the invention of the microprocessor.
Around the world right now, governments, academic researchers and large corporations are in a gold rush of sorts to develop quantum computers. It is one of the most active R&D fields in information technology.
How will quantum computers be different from today’s computers?
Quantum computers will be able to digest and analyze significantly more information and do it much faster than today’s computers. Today’s computers process information in what are called bits. Each bit is either off or on, designated by either a zero or a one. A quantum computer has what are called quantum bits or qubits. These are made out of quantum particles that can be designated by a zero, one or some kind of state in between. Thus, qubits can have both values at the same time. In layman’s terms, this all means that quantum computers have the potential to be much faster and many times more powerful than today’s computers.
What are some potential applications?
Quantum computing will be able to tackle problems that computers just don’t have the power for today. They will solve problems and present recommendations back in seconds instead of days. Good application areas will include those that require intense real-time mathematical calculations on large, complex data sets leading to the selection of the best option among a large number of possible combinations.
There are many potential application areas spanning practically all industries, as those active in this field of research attest in the video below.
Here are the five industry verticals I’m watching, along with their potential quantum computing applications.
- Transportation: When I imagine the future of the transportation of people, goods and services, I see autonomous vehicles on the ground, air and in the water. Quantum computers will be used in the future to ensure that these vehicles don’t crash into people, other vehicles or objects. Consider all the calculations that will be required in real-time to allow this to happen. Traffic will flow fast and smooth with quantum computers making the calculations and decisions for us.
- Financial services: Quantum computers would be used to help firms find new ways to profit from changes in prices that happen instantaneously across markets. For example, a potential application could be an advanced real-time trading decision assistance and automation system that utilizes Monte Carlo simulation calculations for risk management analysis.
- Healthcare: Quantum computers hold the potential for advanced personbalized patient care applications. Tomorrow’s computers will be able to handle genomic calculations for specific patients while they are in the doctor’s office and then use that information, along with advanced cognitive computing analytics, to propose specific and personalized care.
- Life sciences: Researchers will use quantum computers to discover new findings about complex biological systems at the molecule level. This will lead to significant new discoveries in areas like drug development. An example of a potential life sciences application is protein folding simulation. By simultaneously testing a huge number of possible protein fold structures, scientists will be able to identify the most promising ones for further research.
- Telecommunications: A much talked about application of quantum computing is the ability to secure communications via cryptography. The science of cryptography allows for the secure transmission of private and sensitive communications. Quantum communication technologies have the potential to revolutionize secure communications for both government (e.g., military and intelligence organizations) and businesses.
What are the key trends to watch in 2016?
A commercial market for quantum computers will probably not materialize for another 15-20 years. That assumes, of course, that researchers make some important breakthroughs. However, leading organizations should watch the development of this technology carefully and understand potential implications for their business. Below are some trends we can all watch for in 2016.
- Increased awareness: Most of us are still unaware of the implications of a shift to quantum computing and the work going on to commercialize the technology. Expect that to begin to change as the hype factor begins to ramp up in 2016. As vendors make announcements and more content is published, we will all become more aware of the potential.
- Solving technical challenges: Quantum faces a number of technical hurdles that must be overcome. Three challenges that researchers might make progress on in 2016 include: 1) creating systems that can run lots of qubits, 2) minimizing the number of qubits needed to do any algorithm or calculation, and 3) developing advanced error correction capabilities.
- Government investments: Governments are continuing their secretive research, investing huge sums of money in the quest for quantum computers that can help them secure sensitive communications.
- Corporate activities: Corporations are in a race to commercialize quantum computing. Organizations to watch in 2016 include Microsoft, D-Wave, Alphabet, IBM, Alibaba, Intel and Toshiba.
- Brain drain: In 2016, expect corporations and governments to hire more experts away from universities and research labs, much like we have seen the last few years in the field of artificial intelligence.
For more on quantum computing and what some industry experts are saying about this technology, check out the recent IBM Center for Applied Insights report, A quantum of possibilities and related blog posts.
For more information
- IBM Press Release: IBM Awarded IARPA Grant to Advance Research Towards a Universal Quantum Computer
- Video: The future of supercomputers? A quantum chip colder than outer space (Jerry Chow)
- The Economist: A little bit, better
- ComputerWorld: Quantum computing may be moving out of science fiction
- Forbes: Quantum Computing: From Theory To Reality