It’s easy to understand the allure of the super-processing powers of quantum computing when you consider the explosion of data from AI, machine learning and internet of things (IoT).IDCresearchers predicted there will be over 300 billion connected things by 2021. Business models are being disrupted overnight. Workforce diversity and empowered customers are rising, while resources are getting scarce. The ability to manage and monetize large amounts of data is top of mind for leaders whose survival depends on connecting mountains of data ─ experience and operational within and beyond company walls ─ to make better, faster decisions. Quantum computing may become one way of putting all this data to work.
“AI-fueled innovations like self-driving cars require tremendous amounts of computing power to safely navigate exceptional situations on roads every day. That kind of computing power will eventually be miniature and almost invisible because it has to fit inside our cars,” said Andrey Hoursanov, lead of quantum security at SAP. “The challenge with further miniaturization is that making transistors smaller will only work up to a point, after which quantum effects cannot be ignored.”
Industries that could benefit from quantum computing
Optimists think quantum computing will perform all tasks faster and smarter than classical machines. However, Hoursanov said that early experiments show how quantum could solve some problems faster, but not all. He mentioned transportation and finance among the industries that could benefit first from quantum computing’s advantages. Industries like pharmaceutical or battery manufacturing could benefit from quantum technologies even earlier, using quantum simulators before universal quantum computers become available.
“Route planning, supplier management, financial portfolio management, and customer satisfaction analysis are places where quantum’s unique ability to quickly find the optimal solution by analyzing huge amounts of heterogeneous data would work well,” said Hoursanov. “Classical computers get overwhelmed by endless calculations when it comes to these enormous amounts of data, or resort to approximations which might be just a little better than guess work.”
Transportation companies could map out the most cost-effective route using far more parameters than today. Procurement could more easily select the best suppliers for individualized demands. Quantum computing could help people with limited budgets distribute investments for the greatest returns. Manufacturing is another industry where quantum computers could help scale complex assembly, factoring in workers, equipment, raw materials, customer demand and anything else relevant to producing goods, while saving time and maximizing resources.
Proof of quantum computing progress
A sure-fire sign that quantum computing is moving beyond hype and experimentation will be when we see it repeatedly solving real-life problems better than classical computing. However, the technology barriers to this remain huge. One challenge is the inability to store data in a quantum state for reasonably long time periods. Right now, quantum data can be reliably stored on a microsecond timescale. We need to get to hours, at least.
“By nature, a quantum bit loses its quantum properties over time and as soon as it interacts with other matter. This is called decoherence and it leads to errors,” said Laure Le Bars. “When this happens with classical computers, we correct errors behind the scenes. But for quantum bits, error correction technologies are not that advanced.”
Le Bars added that it’s difficult to control many quantum particles at once. “You need something much more universal and reprogrammable to manage the amount of data for advanced technologies like AI and machine learning,” she said.
Another major obstacle is efficiently transferring data between classical and quantum computers. It’s time-consuming to convert classical computer data from places like social networks, the stock market, or internal company systems into the quantum state for processing. For now, companies would likely spend more time converting data than any benefits gained from quantum computing.
Developers will do the new math
Although quantum computers may not be right around the corner, classical software developers will need to prepare for a different future, long-term.
“Developers will need new skills to build software for quantum computing,” said Le Bars. “It will force programmers and technology architects to think differently about algorithmic problems than they have in the past. It’s not about more power. It’s a different approach and way of programming. Quantum computing could be good for certain problems, and developers need to begin exploring the possibilities.”
Le Bars said that SAP is working with other industry leaders to explore quantum technology, also beyond computing, including the company’s partnership in theQuantum Internet Alliance. While it’s difficult to predict the exact trajectory of quantum computing’s growth in these early days, the ongoing rise of big data means it will eventually impact future business.