Get Into the Quantum Game: Use Cases Are Emerging
A year ago, an issue of Board Perspectives focused on why the board should care about quantum computing — what it is, when it will become a reality and what steps companies should take to stay on top of this evolving technology market. Since then, use cases for quantum computing continue to emerge.
One of the most misleading phrases found in articles about quantum computing is something like, “When quantum computers are available ... .” It turns out that quantum machines are not only available now but also powerful enough to tackle practical problems. In fact, they already do certain things better than classical computing, with some trade-offs.
No one has achieved true quantum advantage, where a quantum computer can best a classical computer at a task, considering all relevant factors such as speed and accuracy. Proving quantum advantage to the satisfaction of the scientific community requires benchmarking an application against all known classical computing methods — a difficult task. However, some end-user companies are claiming “customer advantage” with quantum computing — meaning they’ve considered several leading options and found that a quantum approach provides some advantage, considering such aspects as price and speed.
We don’t know exactly when true quantum advantage will be reached; however, some use cases in optimization could get there within a year. But the key point is that when the advantage is achieved by one or more industry players and new use cases fundamentally disrupt manufacturing, logistics and finance, companies that are not quantum-ready won’t be able to simply flip a switch and get into the quantum computing game.
Bottom line, this journey is about readiness, for quantum computing can disrupt and destroy.
With quantum representing such a sea change in computing, companies will not be able to react by teaching a development team a new programming language. Laggards will pay a price.
To begin the journey to quantum readiness, companies need to task quantum technology champions with selecting areas of the business that this new technology may revolutionize.
Implementing quantum use cases can’t happen in a vacuum. Governance structure and support are needed. The right people from executive management, business and technology leadership should be involved. This team needs to consider the applicability and potential benefits and risks of quantum and the appropriate investment level for the business.
Next comes a resource plan. There is a serious skills shortage in quantum technology software development. Companies will have to train people, find talent and resources, and develop processes to support this radical shift in computing looming on the horizon.
It’s difficult to draw analogies to where we are in the quantum computing timeline. Is it the early 1990s of the internet? Uses dreamed of at that time didn’t even begin to capture what the internet would lead to. The same is true for quantum use cases; we know they are just the beginning of applications for systems with infinite possibilities. With quantum, we have the potential for infinite computing power.
One of the most promising use cases gains its edge from a rapidly maturing technology. Optimization problems are performed on quantum annealers, which map variables to thousands of qubits in a way that can be thought of as a field of peaks and valleys. The computer finds the lowest energy state to give the best possible answer.
One way to visualize this process is to imagine searching for the lowest valley on a continent. With a “classical” approach, you would have to drive up and down all over the terrain to measure and find the answer. Thanks to quantum tunneling, the annealer can quickly identify the answer by moving through all the hills without a slow road-trip approach. These “peaks and valleys” can be applied to things like asset portfolios to solve for optimal returns. Specific constraints can be assigned, such as how long to hold an asset and the minimum gain before selling.
There are also gate-based quantum computers that address other kinds of use cases. In a gate-based system, quantum logic gates are applied to qubits until a precise answer is obtained from an algorithm. Unlike annealing, which is looking for a good-enough low-energy state, gate-based machines solve for specific answers to questions.
Forward-thinking boards should see that their companies start planning sooner rather than later for quantum computing to avoid facing resource challenges that could leave them missing the near-term benefits and necessary long-term protections of this emerging area of computing.
Questions for directors might include:
- Have we conducted a quantum readiness assessment?
- Are any of our competitors focusing on how to harness quantum computing? Should we sit and watch them and other industry developments, or should we appoint an executive sponsor, designate a quantum champion and get into the game?
- Are there business challenges we are unable to solve today that quantum computing will be well suited to solve? If we don’t know, should we find out?
- Is there effective governance over where and how we invest in quantum computing?