With the ability to analyze and rapidly process extremely large datasets, some experts say quantum computing promises to enable transformational advances in everything, from the rapid discovery of new drugs and vaccines to financial portfolio management, as well as secure storage and the transmission of business and personal information.
Quantum computing is still in the early stages of development, but will evolve quickly over the next five to 10 years, predicts Satya Sachdeva, vice president of data and insights at Sogeti, the technology and engineering services division of business consulting firm Capgemini. "The quantum computing market is expected to grow from $320 million in 2020 to approximately $830 million by 2024," he says. "It will stay relatively small until 2025 and will see exponential growth beyond 2025."
Recent developments have propelled quantum computing into a transitionary phase, advancing the technology from a theoretical research area into a recognized engineering discipline. "Startups, like D-Wave Systems and Rigetti Computing, have made considerable progress in the design of quantum processors and quantum software development kits," says Sripathi Jagannathan, head of data engineering for IT consulting firm UST.
He also observed that the increasing availability of quantum computing platforms on public cloud services is helping to drive the technology forward. "Amazon Braket on AWS and Azure Quantum have significantly lowered the entry barriers," Jagannathan says. "While there aren’t any mainstream truly quantum applications yet, it’s just a matter of a short time until that happens.”
While many aspects of quantum computing remain unclear, a growing number of observers believe that the technology will arrive in the form of co-processors, functioning in much the same way that GPUs currently support certain types of calculations. "Should that turn out to be the case, then we will likely see CPUs, GPUs, and QPUs (quantum processor units) operating inside major data centers, which provide general and specialized capabilities for different types of transactions and processing," says Scott Buchholz, government and public services CTO and emerging technologies research director for IT advisory firm Deloitte Consulting.
For many use cases, the changeover to quantum computing could be gradual, he says. "In the same way that the use of GPUs has arisen over time and supplemented the existing use of CPUs for calculations, AI/ML and more."
Sridhar Tayur, a professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, agreed with that perspective. "Initially, the change will be gradual, limited to a narrow range of applications," he says. "A tipping point will be reached when quantum will influence many facets of our economy."
On the other hand, some use cases are likely to experience a more rapid transformation. "Where being able to perform calculations orders of magnitude faster represent real market opportunities, the changeover may be far more abrupt," Buchholz says. "Those use cases might include areas such as materials science, quantum chemistry, and certain financial services problems."
The primary challenge to successful quantum computing lies within the technology itself. In contrast to classical computers, a quantum computer employs quantum bits, or qubits that can be both 0 and 1 at the same time, Jagannathan says. Such two-way states give quantum computer its power, yet even the slightest interaction with their surroundings can create distortion. "Correcting these errors, known as quantum error correction (QEC), is the biggest challenge and progress has been slower than anticipated," he says.
There's also an important and possibly highly destructive aspect to quantum technology. "In addition to [a] wide range of benefits . . . it is also expected that [cybercriminals] will someday be able to break public key algorithms that serve as a basis for many cryptographic operations, like encryption or digital signatures," says Colin Soutar, managing director and cyber and strategic risk leader with Deloitte & Touche.
"It's important that organizations carefully understand what exposure they may have to this [threat] so that they can start to take mitigation steps and not let security concerns overshadow the positive potential of quantum computing," says Soutar, who's also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cybersecurity.
Quantum computing will mark a major paradigm shift. "There will be real rewards in terms of intellectual property, talent, and skills for early movers, as they will be able to create immense value for themselves and their industry," Sachdeva says.
Organizations looking to gain familiarity with the radically new technology can do so rather simply by using a quantum computer emulator, such as Quantum Computing Playground. "It may be worth the effort to do these simulations and take a step in getting ready for the future of quantum computing," Sachdeva says.