Will quantum technology transform the business world?

There's much hype around quantum computing, but what are the practical and real-life benefits for businesses and technologists?

Quantum computing is an area that has been researched in the lab for decades. However, technological and scientific breakthroughs have meant it's quickly evolved into a force to be reckoned with.

While conventional electronic systems stores information as a value of 0 or 1, quantum computers use qubits to hold both simultaneously. This would completely transform the way in which data is processed. Microsoft claims that whereas current computers require tens of billions of years to solve the world's most challenging problems, quantum computers could do so in minutes, hours or days.

IBM has expressed similar views, believing that quantum computers will be used by "new categories of professionals and developers" who will "solve problems once considered unsolvable." They're being utilised across a plethora of industries, including cyber security, defence, healthcare, artificial intelligence and engineering.

In the UK, quantum computing has been highlighted as a technology that has the "potential to revolutionise revolutionise a range of industries". Recently, the British government launched a £150 million fund to support commercialisation of quantum technologies and announced investment in this area had surpassed £1 billion. The question is, are businesses really interested in this tech?

A technology revolution

Although quantum computers may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, they're quickly becoming a reality. Maxwell Davies, from tech recruitment firm VHR, believes that they could allow for huge jumps in technology if harnessed correctly.

He tells IDG Connect: "These quantum states include superposition, where a particle exists in two places at once, and entanglement, where two particles can influence each other without interaction. Entanglement could theoretically create a perfectly secure communications network, with messages only being readable by their intended recipient, and being immediately destroyed if anyone else attempted to read them.

Davies says quantum computers will be faster, more efficient and more capable. "Quantum technology will be able to create far more complex simulations, allowing for more accurate simulations of thousands of different scenarios. From this, quantum systems will be able to analyse vast amounts of data, continually learning, adapting, and improving, helping businesses of all kinds become more secure and efficient."

Marco Magagnini, partner of Data Reply, echoes similar thoughts. He calls quantum Computing "a promising technology abstracting the classical idea of bits into more complex entities called quantum bits (qubits)". This, Marco claims, is a "paradigm shift involving not just the hardware, but also the way in which we think about software".

While this technology has yet to reach its full potential, Marco explains that some of the first quantum hardware implementations are on the market today." For instance, recently IBM has launched the first commercial quantum computer and D-Wave has been selling their quantum annealers since 2011," he says.

"These machines are expected to be ready for real world problems in several years. How many years exactly is hard to predict, maybe less than ten, depending on the considered technology. Even though challenging physical issues remain to be solved to allow quantum computers to operate on real cases, intriguing applications can be realised by exploiting the potential of quantum algorithms on massive parallelisation hardware."

Early adopters

With some of these benefits in mind, research from Harvey Nash shows that 4% of (107) global organisations have begun implementing quantum computing to some degree. These include big pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy companies. According to the recruitment giant, 22% of organisations investing in this technology are based in the UK, 19% in the US, and 7% in Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

Rob Grimsey, a director at Harvey Nash, says the organisation was surprised by just how many organisations were dipping their toes into quantum computing - especially in the US, UK and Australia.

"Organisations in pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy were most likely to be investing; sectors that are handling increasingly vast data sets and where quantum computing could find new value in this data where traditional super computers don't have the processing power," he says. "Applications include finding new ways to model financial data to make better investments or understanding better the molecular and chemical interactions to discover new medicines."

Despite the fact that many of these projects haven't moved beyond the pilot stage, Grimsey says the research has shown just how quickly technologies move from experiment to game changers. He continues, "Just ten years ago, organisations would have looked upon cloud and big data with a cautious, maybe even cynical, eye. Now we are seeing both are becoming core to organisations' operations.

"It's hard to tell what path quantum computing will follow, given the currently eye-watering costs of building the technology. But when clear use cases appear, and where the technology begins to be made available through the cloud, like we are beginning to see with AI, its adoption could be rapid."

New opportunities

Founded by academics at UCL and the University of Bristol, Phasecraft is a great example of a company pioneering quantum technology. It's developing software for quantum computers with the aim of solving problems beyond the capacity of current technologies.

Dr Toby Cubitt, co-founder of Phasecraft, says: "Until just a few years ago, the world's best quantum computers could be simulated on a laptop. Fully scalable, error-corrected quantum computers are still many years away.

"But the current generation of noisy, intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) computers are now close to demonstrating computations that cannot be simulated, even by the world's largest supercomputers. These initial ‘quantum supremacy' demonstrations perform completely useless computations. But it means computing power beyond classical is on the cusp of becoming a practical reality."

He says Phasecraft was founded to bring together the best academic minds in quantum computing and put this technology to practical use. "We are developing the fundamental quantum theory and software enabling quantum computers to investigate novel materials, simulate chemical reactions and solve optimisation problems. As quantum hardware matures, this will help develop better batteries, more efficient solar cells, discover new catalysts, optimise key industrial processes, and help optimise logistics."

Although early in its development, quantum computing is an area of technology where the opportunities are endless. There's already masses of interest across an array of industries, and we'll no doubt see more advancements and applications emerge over the next few years.