The quantum future is beginning to take shape
When you apply quantum mechanics to computers, powerful things can happen. At least, that is, in theory. Functional quantum computers have proven notoriously difficult to create since their genesis was first mooted in the 1980s.
The advantage of quantum computers lies in the sheer volume of data they are able to process. When we consider some of the business challenges of the modern age – data analysis, supply chain logistics, risk management – quantum computing can give companies an undeniable competitive edge, by dealing with problems that classical computers simply cannot solve. Whilst the use of quantum computers in business is not yet common, they are being applied to a range of different industries. D/SRUPTION takes a look at five of the fields currently being accelerated by quantum computing.
US biotechnology company Biogen has the not insignificant aim of treating and ultimately curing neurological and neurodegenerative conditions. However, traditional methods of discovering and researching new drugs take many years, costing pharmaceutical companies billions of pounds. Quantum computing can help. Quantum computers are able to run analysis on larger molecules than classical computers can handle. This paves the way for the discovery of new drugs, as well as repurposing existing drugs for new applications. In collaboration with 1QBit, a quantum software company, and Accenture Labs, Biogen used quantum computing to compare and analyse molecules. When compared to the traditional method, the quantum method provided more information on the molecules examined. Greater understanding of a molecule’s characteristics is crucial to insights into its active properties, and can accelerate the process of drug discovery.
2) Machine learning
Training neural networks requires a lot of data. Although our current machine learning techniques have achieved impressive results, quantum computing has even greater potential. This is because quantum computers make light work of large datasets that would take classical computers an impractically long time to analyse. The applications for this in the real world include the creation of artificial intelligence that is capable of making complex decisions, predictive analytics, and election modelling. Quantum computing startup QxBranch recently used D-Wave’s hardware to simulate the results of the 2016 US Presidential election. Where traditional models at the time of the election predicted a convincing win for Hillary Clinton, QxBranch’s quantum capability achieved a better grasp of polling data, giving Trump a higher likelihood of victory.
3) Financial services
Quantum computing has huge potential in the financial services sector due to its increased processing power and speed. In general, the more quickly financial institutions can process transactions or make decisions, the more profitable they are likely to be. One of the main applications of quantum computing in finance is algorithmic trading. This is where algorithms independently initiate trading in stock in line with pre determined strategies, bypassing the need for indecisive, error prone human traders. Other advantages include more accurate assessments of how portfolios will perform, and which investments a company should make to achieve their goals. In December 2017, JP Morgan Chase and Barclays announced a new partnership with IBM which will see them experiment in quantum computing for tasks such as risk analysis and asset pricing in the finance sector.
One of the most famous problems in computer science is that of the travelling salesman. It takes a salesperson with a list of cities he or she must visit, and asks what the best route is between them. Working this out becomes exponentially more difficult the more cities are added, and the greater the distances are that need to be covered. Whilst the Travelling Salesman Problem is a staple of theoretical computer science, its real world applications in logistics and operations research are clear. To minimise delivery times and distances and maximise profits, logistics firms must find the optimum route across highly complex global systems. This involves dealing with a range of variables and the effects of unexpected events such as weather conditions, delays, and human error. Whilst these kinds of calculations would be beyond the capabilities of a conventional computer, quantum computers can tackle them with ease. In 2017, Volkswagen became the first automotive to test quantum computing, when they collaborated with D-Wave Systems on traffic flow optimisation.
Quantum computers will have the ability to break many of the encryption methods we currently use for our data. Technology companies, corporates and governments will therefore need to join the race for quantum safe encryption. Several companies are already leading the way in the development of quantum safe encryption methods. Swiss based ID Quantique was founded in 2001 and provides quantum level network encryption to industries and governments around the globe. The UK Quantum Communications Hub is a coalition of UK universities, private enterprises, and public sector bodies which aims to create a quantum network for the secure transmission of data and transactions. In January this year, Chinese and Austrian researchers achieved a quantum secured video conference via satellite. Quantum computing clearly has a starring role to play in the future of encryption.
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