Is Quantum Computing for Real?

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Is quantum computing for real? Well, maybe and maybe not.

Quantum computing is an area of computer science that leverages the laws of quantum mechanics to help organizations solve complex problems that can’t be solved by traditional high-performance computers. Quantum mechanics is the theory of the physical properties and interactions everything at the atomic and subatomic level.

The goal is to apply quantum theories to enhance computing at a core level, allowing computers to process, compare, order and contrast massive amount of data at insane speeds. With proper application, a quantum computer could compare several potential outcomes to a complex set of data and identify the best one within a fraction of a second.

However, as it’s still early days, use cases are effectively hypothetical and experimental as these “10 Quantum Computing Applications and Examples” show. But forecasts indicate that quantum computing is set to transform numerous Industries, and create as much as $850 billion in annual value by 2040.

Still, advancements in quantum computing serve as “powerful reminders that the technology is rapidly advancing toward commercial viability,” according to McKinsey & Co.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Quantum Computing

The main advantage of quantum computing is that it involves computers that can perform calculations 158 million times faster than today’s fastest supercomputers. Quantum computers are so powerful, they can accomplish in four minutes what it would take traditional supercomputers 10,000 years to complete.

In addition, quantum computers are able to solve more complex problems than typical computers — and even supercomputers — and they can run highly complex simulations. An Australian company has built software that it says will boost the performance of quantum-computing by up to 2,500%.

But one of the downsides of quantum computers is that they are extremely error-prone. Consequently, companies are investing a lot of talent and money into trying to come up with ways to build computers that can identify their own mistakes and correct them. Although there have been some major advances in this area, quantum errors will likely always be around.

In the past year, a Japanese research center said it had realized a breakthrough in quantum computing “that could improve error correction in quantum systems and potentially make large-scale quantum computers possible,” McKinsey noted.

Yet, “even with highly accurate quantum computers, verifying the end results with classical computers will remain necessary.” There is a core difference between quantum computing and classical computing. where classical computing uses zeros and ones to represent data sets, quantum computers use qubits. Unlike ones and zeros that function on a single property on/off basis, qubits are multifunctional and can be both on and off at the same time to represent new forms of data.

Nevertheless, as the pace of breakthroughs accelerate, more organizations are investing in quantum computing and more and more startups are focusing on the technology. Additionally, major tech firms, including Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Alibaba have already rolled out commercial quantum-computing cloud services, according to McKinsey.

Industries that Could Realize the Earliest Use Cases

According to McKinsey, these four industries could realize short-term benefits from quantum computing: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, automotive and finance. However, McKinsey added that, “some experts indicate that not enough time and resources have been invested in developing use cases to reliably indicate which use cases are more or less viable.”

1. Pharmaceuticals

Potentially, quantum computing could completely transform the “research and development of molecular structures in the biopharmaceuticals industry” and improve the pace of production. For example, on average, it costs $2 billion and takes more than 10 years for new drugs to hit the market. Quantum computing, however, could significantly accelerate R&D by making “target identification, drug design, and toxicity testing” less on trial and error dependent.

The faster drugs get to market, the more quickly they can get to the patients who need them, improving their quality of life. “Production, logistics and supply chains could also benefit from quantum computing,” McKinsey noted.

Although it’s not easy to predict how much revenue the use of quantum computing in pharmaceuticals could create, McKinsey estimates that in a $1.5 trillion industry a 1% to 5% increase would result in $15 billion to $75 billion of added revenue.

2. Chemicals

Companies in the chemical industry can use quantum computing to improve R&D and production. They can advance production to enhance catalysts, substances that improve the rates of chemical reactions. (Also Read: What’s behind the big ‘quantum rush’?)

For instance, new and improved catalysts could help companies lower their energy costs on existing production processes — just one catalyst can boost efficiency by 15%. “Innovative catalysts may enable the replacement of petrochemicals by more sustainable feedstock or the breakdown of carbon for CO2 usage,” according to McKinsey.

And, in an industry that spends $800 billion on production annually (half of which relies on using catalysts), a production process merely 5% to 10% more efficient would result in $20 billion to $40 billion in additional revenue, according to McKinsey.

3. Automotive

Quantum computing can help the automotive industry improve R&D, product design, production, mobility, traffic management and the supply chain. For example, automotive companies could apply the technology to reduce costs related to the manufacturing process, as well as, decrease cycle times by optimizing such things as the path a robot follows to complete a task (e.g., painting, gluing and welding).

In an industry that spends $500 billion per year on manufacturing, just a 2% percent productivity gain would result in an additional $10 billion to $25 billion in revenue.

4. Finance

In the finance industry, the advantages of possible short-term use cases are still somewhat theoretical, according to McKinsey, but the use cases that would benefit from quantum computing are in portfolio and risk management.

For example, quantum computing could help financial institutions improve loan portfolios that focus on collateral, enabling lenders to enhance their offerings, potentially reducing interest rates and allowing them to free up capital.

McKinsey noted that it was too early, not to mention, complicated, to estimate the value of using quantum computing to help financial institutions better manage their collateral; “but as of 2021, the global lending market stands at $6.9 trillion, which suggests significant potential impact from quantum optimization.”

Conclusion

Quantum computing will likely be used with conventional high-performance computing until around 2030. “For example, conventional high-performance computers may benefit from quantum-inspired algorithms,” stated McKinsey.

After then, it will be up to private companies and public institutions to continue their work to improve quantum hardware and enable more use cases as well as more complex use cases.

“Six key factors — funding, accessibility, standardization, industry consortia, talent and digital infrastructure — will determine the technology’s path to commercialization,” said McKinsey. (Also Read: Has Quantum Computing Finally Arrived?)

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