Quantum Computing: The Next Business Revolution

AI, Quantum Computing, Technology

Perhaps you’re still adjusting to the new realities of AI and machine learning as they relate to your business. After all, it’s only been about six months since ChatGPT came onto the scene, and many organizations are still grappling with how best to use it and similar services like Google’s Bard.

With all that hype going on, you might have missed the next coming revolution: quantum computing. It’s no exaggeration to say that quantum may well be the most disruptive technology ever. Let’s take a look:

What is Quantum Computing?

The origins of quantum computing actually go back roughly a century. Beginning in the 1920s, the groundbreaking work of Albert Einstein and his contemporaries in quantum theory paved the way for 20th-century technological advancements like lasers, semiconductors and many other innovations. The word “theory” is important there, because even though many real-world products resulted, the true potential of quantum has only begun to be realized over the past two decades.

In the 21st century, manufacturers began creating quantum processing elements called qubits (or quibits) and developed refrigeration equipment that can maintain temperatures close to absolute zero, enabling quantum computers to work most efficiently (source: Forbes).

All that, though, still doesn’t quite explain what quantum computing is. Essentially, quantum computing employs subatomic particles to perform complex calculations at a rate many, many times faster than traditional computing. Without getting too far into doctoral-level computer science, traditional computing uses bits representing one or zero. A qubit, says Cal Tech’s Science Exchange, “… can be in a superposition of one and zero simultaneously until its state is measured.”

And while the power of a classical computer increases in a 1:1 ratio with the number of transistors, power in quantum computing rises exponentially with the number of qubits. The upshot is the ability to perform calculations millions – yes, millions – of times faster than traditional computers. Potentially, that could reduce the calculation time for very complex problems from years to seconds.

What’s the Current State of Quantum Computing?

The operative word in that last sentence is “potentially.” Wired notes that “researchers have yet to make prototype quantum hardware do anything practical.” So don’t jettison all your servers just yet.

In fact, the consensus among experts is that quantum will supplement, rather than replace, traditional computing. For one, those absolute zero refrigerators have big price tags, so quantum computing will be well beyond the financial reach of most organizations. The expected solution here will be cloud quantum computing, in which, just as with traditional cloud computing, resources will be shared among many.

What are the Practical Applications of Quantum Computing?

It’s easy to see that an exponential increase in computing power could be a game-changer, but which games exactly are we talking about? Pretty much all of them. Quantum is expected to bring big changes to every field from health care and drug development to financial modeling to more efficient batteries and solar capture.

The concept of using subatomic particles to do high-level math seems very abstract, and to that end you’ll find any number of analogies to explain the potential of quantum. Our favorite comes from the Forbes article mentioned above, in which an expert notes that we knew very little about diseases until microscopes made it possible to actually see them. Quantum computing will enable us to see new things in new ways, and if all that sounds a little vague, it’s because we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

What we do know is that very big players (IBM, Google) are investing very big money in the potential of quantum computing, as are venture capitalists. 2022 saw investments of $1.8 billion in the field, a fivefold increase from three years prior (source: Wired).

So, while the future isn’t quite here yet regarding practical applications of quantum computing, it’s safe to say that it’s coming and that it will be, well, a quantum leap.