This guide captures key concepts and the status of major quantum computing research initiatives in a way meant to serve the needs of operational decision-makers. Our goal: inform you about the near future so you can make the right changes to your strategy today.
After a review of some key quantum computing concepts we will provide an update on some of the most promising research initiatives and key use cases being explored. We then conclude with insights you can use for your strategic approach and a list of resources for further research.
Key Quantum Computing Concepts Executives Should Be Tracking
- What is quantum computing? It is the leveraging of quantum effects to solve problems that cannot be solved by traditional computing. Today’s computers are built on circuits of transistors that can calculate on the simplest of math. Information is processed using addition and subtraction and memory of 1’s and 0’s. This state of information, the 0 or 1, is called a bit. 8 of those is a byte. With quantum computing, the quantum mechanical properties of single atoms, sub atomic particles and superconducting electrical circuits are used to calculate over matter that can exist in more than just an on or off state. So a value that is being calculated on can be assumed to hold a value of 0 or 1 or even both! This new type of value is called a qubit.
- What is entanglement? One of the most bizarre theoretical concepts and later observations of quantum theory is entanglement. It is a way that the state of two small particles can stay entangled even when separated and at a distance. The state of one of these particles can depend on the state of another. This ability of two separate objects to share a state is what Einstein colorfully called “spooky action at a distance.” Don’t ask anyone to explain it. But it has been proven to work even from Earth to a satellite in space. The challenges are that these entangled particles are very small and hard to manage, manipulate and measure.
- Why all the errors? Quantum computers do work, in labs. But every approach tried to date comes with errors. That is to be expected when working on things at this scale. No matter what the approach, qubits are unstable. To be effective, researchers have concluded that quantum computers must have an error rate of less than 0.5 percent for every two qubits. Every researcher is trying to find ways to drive down current error rates below this. This requires work on software, control electronics and even processor design.
- What is Quantum Superiority? This is a term the community has coalesced around to reflect the time when a computer based on quantum effects can do something, anything, better than a traditional computer. Many researchers believe this is far off, with the guess being that largely due to current error rates it could take a 100 qubit computer. After achieving quantum superiority, it will be pretty clear that quantum computers on on a path to doing something functionally useful.
- What Really Works? Most of the info above could have been written in 1981 when Richard Feynman conceptualized the field of simulating physics using computers. But since then research activities by governments, academia and industry have been making advancements in the study of quantum effects for computing and fantastic demonstrations of potential have been made. At the time of this writing, no true quantum computer has been used to solve any real world problem. There have been promising accomplishments in the lab, but error rates in measuring and computing have just been too large to deliver real results.
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