Quantum computing it’s more than qubits, annealing, and entanglement

James Mabbott, Partner, Head of KPMG Innovate
Kristina Craig, Director, Head of Innovation Lab
Kristina Craig, Director, Innovation & Digital Solutions

Quantum computing should not be thought of as an extension or acceleration of computing as we know it today. Quantum computing is best thought of as a new industry. Consequently for business leaders a key question to ask is, are we the type of business that would have invested in Intel computing in 1968? This is that moment in Quantum.

Quantum computing has moved over the last thirty or so years from the world of academic theory into practical research and development with recent achievements making general quantum computing a possibility. There are today businesses developing quantum hardware, quantum control systems and quantum applications. Some of these are large businesses such as Microsoft, Google, and Intel and others startup ventures such as IonQ, QxBranch and Q-Ctrl.

In a recent panel discussion, Demystifying Quantum Computing hosted by the firm we had Dr David Moehring from IonQ (hardware), Dr Michael Biercuk of Q-Ctrl (control systems) and Mark Hodson from QxBranch (applications) shared their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges for this new industry. And a number of key insights stuck in our minds that should be front of mind for business.

Quantum computers don’t work like the computers of today. Quantum computing won’t do your email (sigh).

A practical way to imagine a likely future is having quantum processors working alongside your classical computer to focus on the particular set of problems where they excel and outperform. Similar to how a GPU processes graphics. These areas typically include involve complex mathematical problems such as optimisation, weather prediction, drug design, encryption and new material creation. These are problems that further increases in normal computational capability just won’t solve.

Quantum computing is at an inflection point and absolutely critical to the ongoing development of the industry is business engagement. This is needed to drive the development of applications and quantum algorithms – you can’t run your old algorithms on a quantum computer – and to develop the quantum algorithms critical to the application of quantum computing engagement with and by business.

Quantum computing doesn’t necessarily mean the end of encryption. It does mean, depending on your time horizon, you might need to be thinking about quantum computing now in the context of cybersecurity. If your business has information it needs to keep secure for one to five years then quantum computing is unlikely to be a risk factor for you. If however your business or organisational information needs to be kept secure for the next 25 years and beyond then you need to be developing quantum resistant encryption now. So for governments and the defence industry quantum computing is an ‘engage now’ issue.

So whilst it can seem that quantum computing and talk of qubits, annealing, and entanglement is far removed from business or business application the reality is there are good reasons to engage in understanding the technology now. Whether this is participating at the start of a new industry or helping to shape the applications.

And in case you’re wondering if a quantum computer would beat Watson at chess the answer from our panellists … maybe.

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