5 things your business needs to know about quantum computing

Quantum computing is one of the new frontiers of digital technology. This post explains the basics so that your business knows where to start with this type of innovation.


By Dan Rundle

Let’s talk about putting quantum computing to work in your business.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Whoa… slow down. Quantum computing? Before you tell me what my business needs to know about it, I’m going to need you to cover the basics. Like… what is it?”

Fair enough. Let’s start at the beginning, with how a classical computer works.

Classical computers encode information in bits. Each bit can take the value of 1 or 0. These 1s and 0s act as on/off switches that ultimately drive computer functions.

Quantum computers are based on qubits, which operate according to two key principles of quantum physics: superposition and entanglement. As explained by IBM, superposition means that each qubit can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. Entanglement means that the state of one qubit (whether it is a 1 or a 0) can depend on the state of another. These two principles theoretically enable quantum computers to function in ways that allow them to tackle problems currently unsolvable by classical computers.

Still confused? This easy-to-follow YouTube video might help.

So, all good now on the basics of quantum computing? Great.

Now you might be asking, “So what does this up-and-coming field mean for my business?”

The truth is that no one really knows everything about this emerging field yet. But you need to know something. So here are 5 things that you and your business need to know about quantum computing.

1. It is mainly theoretical – but progressing quickly

There’s a lot of anticipation around quantum computing, but it’s not living up to the hype—yet. A quantum system has not yet solved one single problem that a conventional computing machine cannot. In fact, your laptop can solve pretty much everything one of the early-generation quantum computers can do—and do it just as quickly.

As a result, there’s some competition in the industry about who will achieve “quantum advantage” first. This refers to the theoretical moment when a quantum computer can do something more effectively than a traditional computer. But until that happens, quantum computers are mainly just proofs of concept—though they are rapidly growing in complexity.

NSF Director France Córdova explains, “Quantum computers will change everything about the technology we use and how we use it, and we are still taking the initial steps toward realizing this goal…

“Developing the first practical quantum computer would be a major milestone. By bringing together experts who have outlined a path to a practical quantum computer and supporting its development, NSF is working to take the quantum revolution from theory to reality.”

2. It is far more prone to errors

Conventional computers use electric signals to generate a series of zeros and ones. Quantum computers rely on the real-world, mechanical behavior of photons. And the truth is that scientists only partially understand why it works the way it does. The surrounding system required for a quantum computer to operate is also incredibly complex, with a multi-layered refrigeration process to keep quantum chips to a temperature just above absolute zero.

So of course there are still failures in the process. But that won’t always be the case.

3. People aren’t yet sure what it’s actually good for

Some experts think quantum computing could be used to optimize shipping logistics. Others are leaning toward more effective analysis of huge databases, or modeling chemicals or organic molecules, or more advanced artificial intelligence. But the reality is that no one knows how quantum computers will one day be used. It’s clear that they have potential, but no practical application has ever been proven. That’s a problem, because if you want the general public to start using quantum computers, you have to teach them what they do.

4. It will create jobs

There are not currently many qualified people in the field of quantum computing—but that is likely to change as the field emerges. Part of the problem is the breadth of knowledge required. The field includes physics, computer science, chemistry, and more. As wired.com explains, if you want to work on quantum computing software, you need to know how to write good code. If you want to use quantum computers to simulate molecules, you need to know chemistry. And to be able to follow how the machines work, you need to understand quantum physics.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that quantum computer scientists are in high demand. There’s even a bill moving through Congress called the National Quantum Initiative. It would essentially encourage federal science agencies to invest in quantum technology for the next 10 years. A key part of the bill would train both students and professionals to do quantum-computing-related jobs.

Jim Clarke is the director of quantum hardware at Intel, one of the companies struggling to hire more quantum computer scientists. He shares, “There’s a real sense of optimism around the bill. It appears to be bipartisan in both houses, and it can tackle a lot of workforce problems in this space as the technology emerges.”

5. There’s a lot of anticipation behind it – and money

Because quantum computing is still very much in the R&D phase, it’s a difficult sell for venture capitalists. However, there’s still a lot of money behind it. For example, the National Science Foundation recently awarded $15 million over five years to the Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design project, which aims to accelerate the development of a practical quantum computer that can answer currently unsolvable research questions—achieving the elusive “quantum advantage.”

Conclusion

One of the biggest keys to success in digital innovation is understanding the Innovation Curve (also known as the Rogers Curve). The technology adoption curve shows which innovations are ready for widespread adoption, and which are still in their infancy. While quantum computing is still at the outset of the curve, it is moving toward adoption. So it’s important for your business to know where quantum computing is now, and where it is going, so that your business can benefit.

Dan Rundle
Dan Rundle is Worthwhile’s CEO and lives in Greenville, S.C. He believes clear values are crucial to the success of a company and its customers.
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