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If you spend more than five minutes on the Internet, watching the news, and otherwise staying current with the world, you have heard the excitement surrounding recent advances in the development of quantum computer systems.
The hype isn’t overblown—it really will change everything. Quantum computers have the potential to blow right through obstacles that limit the power of classical computers, solving problems in seconds that would take a classical computer the entire life of the Universe just to attempt to solve, like encryption, optimization, and other similar tasks.
Needless to say, the race is now on to make quantum computers into practical everyday tools for business, industry, and science in order to gain a competitive advantage.
Quantum Computing Solutions to Classical Computing Problems
You might be wondering what it is about quantum computing that makes it so much more powerful than classical computing.
If you’ve read any article about quantum computing, you’ll have heard how qubits utilize the superposition of subatomic particles—the quantum mechanical process that allows a particle to be in two places at the same time—so that while traditional bits can be 1 or 0, qubits can have 1, 0, or both at the same time.
This last part is the key to quantum computing’s power. In classical computing, a bit can only store a single state, 1 or 0, at any given time.
Qubits actually store the superposition of every possible quantum state, so a single qubit can hold two binary values at once, meaning a single operation can be carried out on 2n values simultaneously, where n is the number of qubits.
Encryption and Cybersecurity
The problem of prime factorization is a non-trivial one once you begin working with the semi-prime product of two very large prime numbers.
This computational limit has meant that since it was introduced, RSA encryption has been a reliably unbreakable seal that has protected much of the world's data and communications.
A sufficiently powerful quantum computer? It could break open RSA encryption with relative ease using Shor's Algorithm. This has led to a lot of discussion about what to do when, not if, our current encryption system is broken.
Some argue for increasing the length of the public encryption keys as long as necessary to beat quantum decryption, but others have argued to use quantum computing itself to secure end-to-end communications.
Niels Bohr, Max Born, and others showed that upon observation, a wave will collapse to a single position in space where the particle itself will be found. Heisenberg also showed that the act of observing the particle disrupted the particle itself to an extent in relation to the amount of information gathered from observation.
Thanks to Quantum Cryptography, this same behavior can be used to perfectly secure communications from eavesdropping or interception, since the very act of intercepting the data would corrupt it, so that the person disrupting the particle cannot get usable information from it, and the recipient can be alerted to the eavesdropping attempt.
Rooted in the nature of subatomic particles themselves, such a system would be completely unbreakable, no matter how advanced the computer trying to crack the encryption.
Fintech has always been on the cutting edge of technology, and quantum computing is no different.
For nearly a century, one of the essential tools in the study of economics has been sophisticated models of market behavior in the hope of predicting important, disruptive events to the broader economy.
These models, thanks to quantum computing, could be expanded to factor in significantly more variables, producing more precise models and increasing their predictive power.
Combined these more sophisticated models with quantum computing's capacity to process and retrieve data from incredibly large data sets, these models—derided by some critics as unscientific guesswork— may be able to make predictions about markets that can have an outsized global impact.
Drug Research and Development
When chemists research new medicines, much of their work is testing hundreds of possible variables in a chemical formula in order to find the desires characteristics needed to treat a variety of illnesses.
This process is of experimentation and discovery often leads to a development time of more than 10 years before a new drug is brought to market-- often at a cost of billions of dollars. is done on computers that have to combine and recombine elements to test the results.
Like financial markets, all of these variables can be processed concurrently by a quantum computer and will greatly reduce the time and cost necessary to develop new drugs.
Supply Chain Logistics
The importance of logistics has been well understood throughout history, from armies to merchants, but also to scientists and mathematicians.
Trying to coordinate and identify the most efficient route for goods to travel to market has been one of the most elusive goals for both business and science for just about forever, but never more so than today, when a business may have global supply chains to deal with.
This falls under a class of problems called optimization problems and generally, they cannot be solved using brute force algorithms, where permutations are calculated and compared one at a time. Because qubits are superpositions though, they will apply any given operation to all possible values represented by the superposition.
Rather than billions of trillions of individual operations, quantum computing can reduce the most difficult Optimization problems down to a number of operations where even a classical computer could find the optimal answer quickly.
Exponentially Faster Data Analysis
The explosion of the Internet, rapid advances in computing power, cloud computing, and our ability to store more data than was even considered possible only two decades ago has helped fuel the Big Data revolution of the 21st century, but the rate of data collection is growing faster than our ability to process and analyze it.
In fact, 90 percent of all data produced in human history was produced within the last two years.
As scientific instruments continue to advance and even more data is accumulated, researchers classical computing will be unable to process the growing backlog of data.
Fortunately, scientists at MIT partnered with Google to mathematically demonstrated the ways in which quantum computers, when paired with supervised machine learning, could achieve exponential increases in the speed of data categorization.
While only a theory now, once quantum computers scale sufficiently to process these data sets, this algorithm alone could process an unprecedented amount of data in record time.
The Race for Quantum Computing Supremacy
Naturally, the world is catching on to the implications of the emergence of practical quantum computing. Governments and businesses who create the first practical use quantum computers will quickly pull away from their rivals to reap the enormous first-mover benefits of the quantum computing revolution.
As a result, governments are investing heavily in quantum computer systems research as are major tech titans like Google and IBM. These developments are expected to begin impacting the 5 areas of the economy we looked at within the next decade, and maybe as early as 2020.
Practical quantum computing is quickly approaching reality and after the quantum computer revolution takes off, humanity better buckle-up, it's going to get wild.