The Race to Find the Killer App for Quantum Computing
Our world is complex, and the state of matter surrounding us is rarely as clear-cut as we tend to think.
Physical matter, nature, choices, etc. are not always definitive with respect to location, amounts, accuracy, and certainty. Situations are not always reducible to the 1’s and 0’s used by our classical computing systems.
No, our world is quantum. Quantum physics is a scientific term that accounts for the fact that at atomic levels, matter can simultaneously be in different places and states, a principle called superposition. This science also acknowledges the fact that measuring multiple components is not a simple exercise since they may not be independent of each other. They can be in a state scientists refer to as entanglement.
Classical computers manipulate ones and zeroes to crunch through operations, but quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits. Just like classical computers, quantum computers use ones and zeros, but qubits have a third state called “superposition” that allows them to represent a one or a zero at the same time. Instead of analyzing a one or a zero sequentially, superposition allows two qubits in superposition to represent four scenarios at the same time. Therefore, the time it takes to crunch a data set is significantly reduced.
Quantum computing takes things well beyond today’s supercomputers even – thanks to its ability to perform multiple tasks and consider alternatives simultaneously.
Will it rain tomorrow? That’s a job fit for a relatively straightforward computer calculation based on a handful of variables: weather fronts in the area, current conditions, the jet stream, etc. Conventional computing can do a decent job of informing meteorologists as they come up with a fairly reliable 24-hour forecast.
But what’s the outlook for environmental conditions in Kansas in 2023 that could affect the wheat harvest? Clearly, calculating a somewhat precise answer to this important question requires that we consider significantly more variables, weather-related and others. This kind of extremely thorough analysis would quickly be too much for conventional computing to handle in a reasonable period of time.
That’s the power of quantum computing – it doesn’t necessarily give us new and better answers and capabilities, it gives us new and better answers faster, to the point where we can ask questions that weren’t worthwhile asking before. It gives us capabilities we never dreamed of in critical industries from aviation to healthcare.
Until recently, quantum computing was more of a theoretical than an applied technology. That’s changing and it will revolutionize how we analyze and do things in the very near future.
IonQ is the first quantum computing hardware company to go public, and it went public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). It’s promising to team up with companies in a variety of industries to give them an informational edge and to empower major leaps forward in technological capabilities.
In Search of the “Killer App”
Most of the futuristic concepts I’ve explored recently will be further advanced through the use of quantum computing. We’re going to see a faster pace for nearly all of these breakthroughs, thanks to complex questions and deal with uncertainties and probabilities, crunching massive amounts of data in a far more efficient way.
Traditional computers are better at some tasks than quantum computers, such as email, spreadsheets, and desktop publishing to name a few. The intent of quantum computers is to be a different tool to solve different kinds of problems, not to replace classical computers.
While no one has yet identified the “killer app” for quantum computing, meaning the application that will return the greatest return on investment, here are eight likely candidates:
1. Virtually Unbreakable Encryption
In a few years, quantum computers might be so powerful that they could crack any password. That’s why it’s imperative that researchers start investing into new, quantum-safe cryptography. Quantum technology is a double-edged sword, however, in the sense that it won’t only crack every password, but also be able to generate new, unhackable cryptographic keys.
Thanks to quantum computing, we’ll see more precise and individualized cancer treatments, with therapies that better target radiation application. Quantum computing will also quickly bring us to the point of having customized pharmaceuticals based on a person’s genomes and other personal health characteristics.
Automated Transportation Flow
In addition to spurring technological breakthroughs in self-driving trucks, cars, boats, and planes, quantum computing will be critical to optimizing traffic flow in these automated grids of the future. In the meantime, it will help route human-driven vehicles more efficiently.
As described earlier, long-term weather forecasting will be improved by quantum computing that can digest and process far more data more efficiently than the best of today’s supercomputers. The benefits will be huge and extend well beyond personal planning and comfort. Much of our economy is weather-affected – farming, transportation, and infrastructure construction to name a few. When we have better information, we can make better decisions in those areas and make better use of resources.
Finance was one of the earliest domains to embrace Big Data. And much of the science behind the pricing of complex assets, such as stock options, involves intensively complex calculations. When Goldman Sachs, for example, prices derivatives it applies an extremely computing-intensive calculation known as a Monte Carlo simulation, which makes projections based on simulated market movements. Computing speed has long been a source of advantage in financial markets, where hedge funds vie to get millisecond advantages in obtaining price information. Quantum algorithms can increase speed for an important set of financial calculations.
The goal of AI is to enable machines to mimic human behavior, which means mimicking the neural network – yes, the brain. Duplicating a human brain is one of the most complex machine learning challenges I can imagine. Quantum computing will help us make great strides in that direction, but even this breakthrough may not be enough to program a machine to “think” like a person.
Quantum Autonomous Transportation
Billions of dollars are being invested in autonomous vehicles. The aim is to make vehicles so smart that they’re fit for busy roads anywhere on Earth. Although there is a lot of talent working to train AI algorithms to learn how to drive, accidents are still a problem. Quantum AI, which might be a lot faster and more powerful than current methods, may help solve this problem.
Computational simulations of drug molecules are essential since they cut costs and time, sometimes dramatically. Today, this type of simulation is only possible with relatively small molecules though. If, however, companies are interested in proteins, which often have thousands of constituents, they need to manufacture them and test their properties in real life because today’s computing resources are not sufficient to make an accurate simulation. Quantum simulations could dramatically reduce the costs of development and help bring drugs to the market substantially faster.
The opportunity for quantum computing to solve large-scale complex problems faster and cheaper has encouraged billions of dollars of investment in recent years. The biggest opportunity may be in finding more new applications that benefit from the solutions offered through quantum.
And that leads me to wonder what the next computing innovation will look like and what will inspire it … just like quantum physics-inspired quantum computing.