Quantum Computing: A Need-to-Know Guide for Businesses
Quantum computers process information in ways that humans and classic computers aren’t capable of, making them a potentially invaluable tool for solving the complex business problems of the future. The technology is still in the early phases of development and testing, but investing the time and energy to stay up-to-date on their progress is the only way to prepare for their potential impact on the business world. Scientist, Felipe Perez, from Zero Gravity Labs, offers a handy guide to what quantum computing can (and can’t) do well right now.
Felipe Perez, Scientist, Zero Gravity Labs
Quantum computing (QC) is a complex subject, but for executives looking to future-proof their company, it’s worth putting in the time and investment to understand how it could eventually apply to your business. Quantum computers are already starting to influence how we approach science and medicine, and with heavy investments from the likes of IBM and Google, you can expect the same to be true for nearly every professional industry in the next 15 years. Why? QC allows for a fundamental shift in how we analyze and solve problems, to create truly revolutionary new tactics and strategies that would be impossible to conceive of on our own.
As companies strive to deliver personalized experiences in near real-time, the algorithms needed will become more complex and require greater computing power. We can meet growing customer expectations by optimizing traditional computers, but the need to deliver increasingly complex digital experiences without lag time will make that progressively harder. Quantum computers could be a solution for this challenge, and companies interested in staying ahead of the curve should be looking to understand their impact before QC becomes mainstream.
Our team at Zero Gravity Labs is already researching and testing the possibilities of quantum computing, as well as thinking about how they might impact a number of business sectors, from traditional technology to retail and any number of others in between. It’s almost a certainty that QC is going to be important, but the technology is still in the early phases of development and testing. That said, what do you need to know about it now that can help you prepare for later? Below is a look at some of the common myths about quantum computing making the rounds on the internet, paired with nuanced truths that shed some light on what QC is all about.
MYTH: Quantum computers are really just extremely sophisticated computers.
TRUTH: They’re a totally new way of processing data.
Classic computers are deterministic. They follow a precise set of rules to always arrive at the same result. This is great for standard problem solving, but not how things work in nature. In order to understand how the universe works on a fundamental level, scientists utilize something called quantum mechanics. Quantum computers borrow from quantum mechanics, working with not only probabilistic outcomes, but obtaining those outcomes from a “generalization” of probability that works with more complex numbers.
This sounds complex (because it is), but what’s important to understand is that quantum computers “think” differently than humans and classic computers do. By processing information in a new way, they could help us find new solutions for complex business problems that we couldn’t conceive of on our own.
MYTH: Quantum computers can solve almost all traditional computer problems instantly.
TRUTH: Quantum computers exponentially speed up the solving of certain problems.
Quantum computers are extremely fast, but not instantaneous. Their speed comes from using the laws of quantum mechanics to manipulate information and find quicker paths to a correct answer. They do this by using qubits, the quantum equivalent to the traditional bit. While bits can only be programmed to analyze a 1 or 0, qubits consider 1, 0 and everything in between. While they’re extremely fast, they’re not suited to tackle every problem you would traditionally approach with a classic computer.
Most problems quantum computers are currently analyzing fit into two categories: those designed specifically for a quantum computer, such as simulating quantum systems (i.e., a real system that exists in the physical world like cells), or problems that are more relevant to everyday life (and business), such as optimization, search and cryptography.
In the future, any problem a classic computer can solve could, in theory, also be solved on a quantum computer. However, quantum computers are still new. Bigger, more complex models are being built all the time, but they still have only a handful of qubits. They also require a huge amount of time and investment to operate, making them impractical to answer many standard statistical questions.
MYTH: Quantum computers will end concerns over consumer data safety.
TRUTH: They can help, but may complicate matters in the short term.
The new and complex thinking power of quantum computers is likely to have huge implications for data safety. To start, they could be extremely dangerous if weaponized to hack classic computers, which is why several companies are already researching cryptography protocols to protect against quantum attacks. The good news is that quantum computers can also likely aid in defense, such as by developing algorithms that could be run on ordinary machines.
MYTH: Quantum computers will perfect machine learning.
TRUTH: They will vastly speed up the process, but will have their own problems.
Machine learning is quickly becoming a must-have for brands striving to improve their real-time marketing and personalize the customer experience — especially in retail. The field of QC-powered machine learning is still relatively young, but early tests indicate that quantum computers could turbocharge the practice. The potential to drastically speed up the process of analyzing business data and translating it into useful recommendations is massive, but some people think QC could go even further, allowing us to solve business problems in new and inventive ways.
Before we get there, there will be hurdles to overcome. Machine learning is a computationally expensive procedure, especially in terms of bits/qubits. Because scalable quantum information processing has yet to be achieved, the number of qubits available for a given quantum computer is not large enough to perform most useful machine learning tasks.
Yes, QC sounds futuristic. Yes, it is still a number of years from being ubiquitous in the world of business. But the same could be said for artificial intelligence and machine learning less than a decade ago. It’s a technology that may have a profound impact on how we solve business challenges and even how we understand what our major problems are. Getting ahead of those changes could be invaluable for your business, which means the sooner you start investigating quantum computing, the better off you’ll be.