Quantum Computing: Are Businesses Ready?

In the recent past, we have heard many headline-grabbing announcements about Quantum Information Science (QIS) in the global media. On May 4, US President Joe Biden signed two ‘presidential decrees’ aimed at accelerating the development of QIS in the United States to maintain its global leadership status in emerging technologies. For, it fears that once quantum computers reach a certain scale and sophistication, they could crack much of the existing cryptography that secures digital communications on the Internet.

It is reported that the UK Ministry of Defense acquired the first quantum computer to explore ways to bolster its defense using QIS. Having pledged £10 mn of funding as early as 2020 to build the country’s first quantum computer, UK appears to be quite ambitious to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy, even as experts believe that quantum technology could throw open economic opportunities worth £4 bn globally by 2024, while productivity gains could cross £341 bn within a few decades.

In June, NATO launched its innovation fund of €1 bn to invest in early-stage start-ups and other venture capital funds engaged in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, Big Data processing, quantum-enabled technologies, etc.

Even private money is pouring in: Private funding to a tune of about $3.2 bn is said to have been already invested in the sector. In the current year, another $1.4 bn is expected to be invested. This is over and above the significant funding by national governments across the globe who have committed tens of billions to be invested in their quantum technology programs. Corporates such as Honeywell, IBM, Intel, Google, etc., are in the race to deliver the next quantum breakthrough.

All this should serve as a wake-up call for those senior executives of corporates who, according to EY’s recent survey about quantum readiness, are not expecting quantum computing to play any significant role in their industry till at least 2030. For, though quantum computers are still in the early stages of development, they are already creating value: quantum-inspired algorithms can be run on today’s classical computers to deliver tangible value to businesses and financial processes.

Quantum computers are expected to solve many problems such as mathematical optimizations exponentially faster than classical computers can, and that too, with less energy consumption. A classical computer has to run one path after the other until it finds its way out of the maze. For instance, if the maze comprises 256 possible paths, it has to, on average, run through the maze about 128 consecutive times to find the right path. As against this, a quantum computer is capable of working with all the 256 paths at once. In other words, an 8-bit classical computer can represent only a single number from 0 to 255 whereas an 8-qubit quantum computer, owing to the laws of quantum mechanics, can represent every number from 0 to 255 simultaneously.

There is, of course, a formidable obstacle to building functional quantum computers: Qubits, owing to their underlying physics, don’t stick around for long. Externalities such as vibration, temperature, and other environmental factors are known to cause them lose their quantum-mechanical properties leading to errors. But scientists are working to build such environments─ entrapping them in ultra-high vacuum chambers; cooling qubits to temperatures of hundreds of degrees below freezing ─in which the many physical qubits act together to create error-protected logical qubits that can survive for longer periods of time.

Nevertheless, in view of the focused ongoing research that is promising to demonstrate a logical qubit within two years, and the unique feature of their computing, quantum computers are expected to enable businesses to better optimize investment strategies, management of electrical grids, climate and weather modelling, behavioural analytics, improve encryption, discover new products, among many others.

And to avail these advantages, businesses need not own quantum computers but can assess them under a cloud-computing-style model. Though their commercial availability is yet to happen, it is certainly not too soon for the firms to get ready for availing their services. For, once they are in place the disruption that they are likely to cause would be mind-blowing. The challenges that will be faced by cryptography itself would simply eclipse the cost businesses encountered in the past to mitigate the Y2K challenge.

In all probability, quantum computers may not replace classical computers. They will rather be used as special tools for undertaking highly specialized calculations. Yet, forecasts indicate that quantum computing affords competitive advantage to 25% of Fortune 500 companies within the coming three years.

So, businesses, as Jonathan Ruane et al (2022) from MIT, who are actively associated with research under quantum technologies said, “must stay focused on two activities: “vigilance” — watching the progress in QIS and “visioning” — drafting plans for assessing how QIS will affect their businesses.

In other words, business leaders must prepare their businesses to be ready to assess how the QIS will affect the organization and how to leverage it for developing better products and managing their potential vulnerabilities. Else, they may fall behind competitors who, aided by quantum computing, might fast reshape themselves sparked by innovation and march ahead!

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More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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