Traditional binary data can be only a 0 or a 1 at any given time. But imagine if data could be both a 0 and a 1 at the same time?
It sounds simple, but such a change would enable exponentially faster computation. Add specialized hardware, and users of this new type of computing power could perform faster analytics and predictions, empowering advances in a broad range of areas including cybersecurity, fraud detection and early disease detection, to name a few.
It may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually all quite possible with quantum computing. Quantum computing has the potential to tackle large mathematical problems supercomputers can’t even touch. And while it’s long been limited to science fiction, quantum computing is becoming reality, and quite quickly.
Possibilities and challenges
The primary hurdle scientists are working to overcome today has to do with the scalability of quantum, which is limited by the extreme cooling required to keep quantum bits (qubits) stable and to keep the equipment required to read and write quantum data working. Currently, qubits must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures to preserve quantum states.
But getting the cooling issue and other challenges around quantum computing figured out could come with huge rewards. Quantum computing has the potential to unleash promising, data-laden applications that include artificial intelligence, Big Data and the Internet of Things.
Though companies like Google, IBM and Intel are developing new semiconductor chips specifically to handle high-speed machine learning, quantum computing has the potential to take things to a whole new level.
It’s still in its infancy, but quantum science is attracting big investments, and those investments have the potential to push quantum forward more quickly.
"A growing number of enterprises are already committing resources to exploring how to apply quantum computing,"said David Schatsky, managing director at Deloitte. "The stakes appear to be too high to ignore this still-nascent technology."
Quantum attracted $147 million in venture capital in the last three years alone, and $2.2 billion in government funding globally, according to a Deloitte analysis, based on CB Insights data. The advanced computing is no longer confined to academic research labs and start-up companies. Big tech companies are also placing bets that quantum will soon drive innovation across industries.
Google recently announced that it plans to produce a viable quantum computer in the next five years, and startups Rigetti and D-Wave as well as established players like Microsoft and Intel have been investing in quantum too. Intel recently invested $50 million to help develop the technology.
Quantum as a Service?
Until there is a breakthrough to make quantum computers viable onsite and allow companies to fully build quantum computing into their operations, some companies are working to offer Quantum as a Service.
Earlier this year, IBM announced it wants to start providing enterprise partners with access to quantum computing systems as soon as this year. Dubbed "IBM Q," the quantum systems and services will be delivered via the IBM Cloud platform and are "designed to tackle problems that are too complex and exponential in nature for classical computing systems to handle," according to the announcement.
IBM also announced the release of a new API that will allow developers and programmers to build interfaces between its cloud-based quantum computer and classical computers. Big Blue plans to release a quantum-related Software Development Kit later this year.
Once it becomes reality, there are many ways quantum computing or quantum services could be employed in the enterprise. Schatsky recently examined how quantum computing could impact a broad range of industries ranging from finance to life sciences to manufacturing as part of his "Signals for Strategists" blog on Deloitte University Press.
For example, Schatsky points out that financial institutions such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs are investigating the use of quantum computing in areas such as "portfolio optimization, asset pricing, capital project budgeting and data security." Other organizations are exploring applications in logistics, aerospace, industrial chemistry and energy.
"For instance, the standard process for manufacturing fertilizer uses some 2% to 5% of global natural gas production each year," wrote Schatsky. "Quantum simulation could lead to the discovery of a more efficient process that could save billions of dollars and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas annually."
Of course, quantum computing also presents risks because all that power could potentially be used for malicious purposes. Imagine a cyberattack using quantum computing, for example.
"When quantum computing becomes a reality, many public-key algorithms will become obsolete," said Kevin Curran, an IEEE senior member and senior lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Ulster.
Fortunately, Curran says at the same time scientists are working to make quantum computing a reality, cryptographers are creating new algorithms to prepare for a time when quantum computing could pose a threat.
"Technologies such as quantum key distribution will provide us with a means to communicate securely, while post-quantum cryptography will ensure that our encrypted data remains safe, even during brute-force attacks by a quantum computer," said Curran. "But the threat that quantum computing poses is to the security of public key algorithms. Most symmetric cryptographic algorithms (symmetric ciphers and hash functions) are believed to be relatively secure against attacks by quantum computers."