When Google announced in October 2019 that it had proven quantum computing could accomplish a task a conventional computer can’t—at least not in a reasonable amount of time—it caused a ripple effect.
Engineering firms, financial institutions, global supply chains and e-commerce companies are exploring how quantum computing can enhance AI capabilities, accelerate scientific discoveries, optimize logistics and finance and advance cybersecurity.
What is Quantum Computing?
Today’s supercomputers are limited in their ability to handle complex, time-consuming calculations. Quantum computing, which leverages the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics, offers a solution that could outperform even the most powerful supercomputers.
A simple analogy helps explain the potential value of quantum computing: When a coin is flipped, it spends a little time in the air spinning between heads and tails. A regular computer can read this spinning as either heads or tails, but a quantum computer would be able to read it as both at the same time.
This type of processing is referred to as quantum supremacy. In business applications, it allows companies to run algorithms more efficiently and solve problems that were previously out of reach. McKinsey reports that banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are already exploring how quantum computing might improve their operations. Other areas of interest include weather forecasting, materials science, logistics optimization and, perhaps most excitingly, machine learning.
Quantum Computing Applications
Using quantum computing, engineers and scientists can model data and make predictions that would be impossible to accomplish with traditional computers. Companies that embrace quantum technology early on can gain a competitive advantage.
For example, industrial chemists can use quantum computing to simulate the molecular interactions that occur during chemical processing. This could enable them to develop new products more quickly. Similarly, auto manufacturers like Volkswagen and Daimler are leveraging quantum computers to simulate the cell chemistry of electric vehicle batteries, so they can better optimize battery performance and lifecycles.
Other business applications of quantum computing include route optimization, reducing the cost of logistics and transportation, and financial modeling. These applications use a technique called Monte Carlo simulation, in which a quantum computer explores the range of possible outcomes for a given problem. Quantum computers can process the results of each exploration asynchronously, so the best result is achieved more quickly than with classical computers.
Quantum Computing Startups
A number of startups are focusing on quantum computing. Some are developing software, others hardware. Some are experimenting with the use of quantum algorithms while others offer consulting and development services to help organizations reap the benefits of this technology.
QC Design is developing error correcting architectures that will allow companies to build scalable fault-tolerant quantum computers. They are located in Ulm, Germany and were founded in 2021.
Algorithmiq is working to revolutionize life sciences by combining quantum computing with AI and precision medicine. They hope to speed up drug discovery processes and develop medicines for previously undruggable diseases.
Nord Quantique is a developer of quantum processors that are designed to overcome the limitations of current technology. Their first generation processor uses what they call “cat qubits” to exponentially reduce bit-flip error rates. The company is located in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada and was founded in 2020.
Quantum Computing Future
Companies that want to stay ahead of the curve should begin to look at how to incorporate quantum computing into their workflows, Boger suggests. This should include partnering with quantum computing players, hiring talent that knows how to use these technologies and tracking industry developments.
The most obvious benefit is in data processing. For example, a mathematical operation that would take a classical computer billions of years to complete could take days on a quantum machine. This democratization of access to quantum computing power will open up new applications such as simulating chemicals on a molecular level to improve pharmaceutical research; optimizing route planning for autonomous vehicles in congested traffic; and processing huge amounts of data that can accelerate AI.
For instance, Helsinki-based Algorithmiq has built a platform that uses the statistical distribution of quantum algorithms to significantly accelerate and optimize machine learning. It can also process more data than a traditional system, which enables it to identify patterns and anomalies that would be missed by a conventional algorithm.