Ari Zoldan, CEO Quantum Media Group.
Some have said that quantum computing is the technology of the future. What is quantum computing, and why might it be useful to companies? Quantum computing means making use of quantum physics to build and operate computers. Conventional computers run on bits, or a large number of ones and zeros. Quantum computers, or quantum processing units (QPUs), utilize qubits which can be ones, zeros or a supposition of two. This difference should allow QPUs to make calculations far quicker than traditional computers when computing complex problems.
Specifically, quantum computers excel at constrained optimization problems. An example of a constrained optimization problem is finding the most efficient route between multiple points. Some industries that often deal with these kinds of problems include finance, transportation and pharmaceuticals. Multivariable constrained optimization problems are time-consuming, even impossible in some cases, for traditional computers to perform. Quantum computers are expected to solve multivariable constrained optimizations with relative ease. This ability is of interest to many industries that regularly grapple with constrained optimization problems as they can solve large problems faster while increasing margins and ultimately building a competitive advantage.
QPUs require tightly controlled cryogenic temperatures and stable electrical currents to operate. Currently, some can only operate for fractions of a second before having to stop. Adding to these problems is the lack of an agreed-upon best way to build QPUs. So far, only relatively small and arguably unstable ones have been constructed. However, this lack of practicality has not deterred investor interest in quantum computing with more than 50 venture capital deals (paywall) with quantum computer firms in existence, a threefold increase compared to 2018.
Leaders In Quantum Computing
The oldest player in the quantum space is IBM. Since the 1990s, it has been active in developing QPUs. In 2016, it connected a quantum computer to the cloud and parlayed this advance by offering the public use of its prototype quantum processors, called the IBM Quantum Experience. This platform allows people and businesses to familiarize themselves with quantum. The company also plans to build a 1,000+ qubit quantum computer by 2023. Currently, its largest quantum computer is 65 qubits. This immense size would constitute a “large” quantum computer and perhaps enable it to perform practical functions.
Via its Quantum AI division, Google has also been a pioneer in quantum computing and plans to build a 1 million qubit quantum computer by 2030. A significant breakthrough came in 2019 when a Google-built quantum computer allegedly demonstrated “quantum supremacy,” a concept where a quantum computer solves a problem that no classical computer can solve in a feasible amount of time. However, the problem itself had no real-world applications, something the industry is working on. Some companies have started to sign agreements to work with Google as well. For example, German pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim has agreed to work with Google to use quantum computing to develop new drugs.
As a semiconductor chip company that produces processor, memory and storage chips, Intel also creates quantum chips, which are used to improve communications with QPUs. The company has heavily invested in research and is on its third generation of quantum processors. The unveiling of the first commercial cryogenic control chip (named “Horse Ridge”) could be revolutionary. This cryogenic chip should expedite the construction of large quantum computers since it allows for the control of multiple qubits on one chip.
Overcoming Challenges In The Industry
Right now, quantum computers cannot solve problems or operate on their own (though many believe that they are on the cusp of being able to do so within the next decade). However, businesses have found that they can still contribute value. Many are taking advantage of some quantum capabilities. This idea is termed a hybrid approach, where the parts of a problem are handled by classical computers and parts of a problem are tasked to quantum computers.
Companies can use a hybrid approach to become acquainted with quantum technologies while still acknowledging the current limitations that exist in the quantum computing space. When using this approach, businesses must deeply consider what types of tasks are best suited for quantum computers. Only the tasks that quantum computers excel at when compared to conventional computers should be prioritized for quantum computers. Hopefully, quantum technology will reach the point when this prioritization is not a necessity.
To date, only large companies can afford to build and operate quantum computers, leaving smaller firms looking to gain cloud access to quantum computers. Hampered by Covid-19, smaller firms are closing at higher rates and looking to cut costs. By accessing quantum computing through cloud service companies, small companies can achieve access to these problem-solving technologies at a lower cost and greater ease than if they built themselves quantum computers. Companies that run frequent constrained optimization problems are likely the ones that have the most to gain from adding quantum utilizations to their businesses.
The improvement in computing can increase productivity, secure profits and potentially enhance lives. With more and more companies using the cloud and artificial intelligence to support their businesses, commercial interest in quantum computers seems destined to grow.
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