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Can the “Quantum” of good news be any better for 2021?
We’ll be making jokes about weathermen until the end of civilization. But everything else will benefit from Quantum Computing.
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2020 has been devastating. We need good news. We need ways to deal with the ballooning socio-economic crisis; with the resulting depression and anxiety; and with the levels of uncertainty of the kind we have rarely experienced in human history. And, as if on cue, there is good news. It comes in the form of Quantum Computing, a technology waiting for us, alluringly, just around the corner. Who knows, 2021 could be the year when Quantum Computing shines a light on how to deal with uncertainty.
The Gartner Glossary defines Quantum Computing as “a type of nonclassical computing that operates on the quantum state of subatomic particles. The particles represent information as elements denoted as quantum bits (qubits). A qubit can represent all possible values simultaneously (superposition) until read. Qubits can be linked with other qubits, a property known as entanglement. Quantum algorithms manipulate linked qubits in their undetermined, entangled state, a process that can address problems with vast combinatorial complexity.” That is, admittedly, a bit dense. But when we compare Quantum Computing with classical computing (the stuff that is on your mobile, desktop and in your datacenter), the difference becomes evident. Our computers operate using bits – 0 and 1, + or -, true or false, black or white – where everything is binary. The “bits” of Quantum Computing, called qubits, represent a range of values in what is called “superpositioning” – this is at the core of a dramatically different way of using data.
Quantum computers apply the probabilistic laws of quantum physics – instead of mathematical formulas -- to data. Qubits maintain a fluid, non-binary identity and can have several values at the same time. Fundamentally, quantum computing leverages uncertainty to deliver certainty. Classical computing cannot do that. Therein lies the difference.
In Japan, the Fugaku supercomputer, the fastest in the world until June 2020, was used for detailed droplet dispersal analysis and to rapidly identify existing drugs that were useful for the treatment of COVID-19. By December 2020, New Scientist was reporting that the University of Science and Technology of China reached quantum supremacy using a device called Jiuzhang to complete in 200 seconds a calculation that would have taken the Fugaku supercomputer 600 million years to accomplish. These are extraordinary leaps in computing. They will drive extraordinary use cases across industries, and shape a future that is more predictable and safer.
It should come as no surprise that Quantum Computing is being listed in the top 10 digital trends for 2021. TechCrunch said that “the next 12 to 18 months will be nothing short of a watershed moment for quantum computing” and went on to identify 8 trends that would “accelerate quantum computing readiness for commercial markets in 2021 and beyond.”[i] McKinsey has predicted that Quantum Computing will be a $1 trillion business by the mid-2030s and expects five industries that include finance, chemicals, pharma, telecom-media-technology (TMT), and automotive to create the most value from the technology.[ii]
Nobody would fault you to believe that this is a fancy technology that will remain inaccessible to anything but the biggest businesses. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are already a number of as-a-service providers of Quantum Computing. Late last year, Amazon announced Braket, a managed service for scientists, researchers, and developers who want to experiment with computers from multiple quantum hardware providers in a single place. Amazon also set up a solutions lab that connects AWS customers with Quantum Computing experts from Amazon. Honeywell is offering its Model H1 quantum computer in a subscription model. Microsoft isn’t too far behind with Azure Quantum. You get the picture. This is big game, big disruption, big outcomes. And everyone is on to it. In fact, even the Indian government is betting on the technology. The Union budget for 2020 allocated Rs 8,000 crore towards National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
It is perhaps reasonably clear that practical quantum computers – that will sit in your and my workplaces – are quite a few years away, perhaps more than a decade away (so don’t think of junking your desktop and laptops right now!). But they will increasingly be available in the form of platforms in Cloud, ready to be accessed at the swipe of a card. We’ll be snowed under quantum applications, algorithms, tools, frameworks, sandboxes, experience centers, innovation hubs, CoEs and, as always, a bunch of international Quantum conferences that will get into your calendar!
We should all be excited about Quantum Computing. My favorite reason for loving it is that at the core of the technology is the counterintuitive use of “uncertainty”. I mean, we live in a world that is constantly fighting uncertainty and willing to pay top dollar to reduce uncertainty. And here, finally, is a reason to embrace uncertainty.
On a lighter note, I have an important question to ask: Will these quantum machines be able to deliver better weather forecasts? I doubt it. We’ll be making jokes about weathermen until the end of civilization. But everything else will benefit from Quantum Computing.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.