View from India: Where next for quantum computing?

Work from home (WFH) automation and contactless procedures, must-haves during the pandemic, have boosted quantum innovation. WHF may have ebbed away, but the exploration of newer possibilities with quantum computing still continues.

Quantum computing isn’t new, but its commercialisation is somewhat recent. Looking back, 2016 could probably be considered as still the pre-market phase for quantum computing. It then seemed like a scam for concerned investors and end users. Since then on, the ground is being prepared for raising awareness about the technology.

“The pandemic has fuelled quantum innovation for challenges coming from supply chain management and a distributed workforce. Consequently, there’s is an extra pressure on automation and an enabling hybrid working environment. Now we need to take the technology to the next frontier,” said Dr Eric Holland, business development manager, quantum at Keysight Technologies, speaking at the Keysight World Innovate event held virtually.

Quantum is not a plug-and-play technology, yet it can be used to mitigate many of today’s problems like climate change. 5G networks and AI led designs may be some of the upcoming requirements for innovation in quantum technology. Industry, academia and government may have to come together for exploration in quantum applications.

Patrick Moorhead, a futurist at Moor Insights & Strategy, elaborated. “What could be interesting is that each time a qubit is added, it doubles the power of quantum compute. This feature enables it to address complex issues. From research to development, quantum computing can solve breakthroughs in weather forecasting. The quantum computing market could be disruptive over the next five-ten years,” he explained

Quantum computing is here and it needs to move from the lab to commercial use. Once it happens, there could be many changes. For instance, there will be a higher demand for intelligent systems that are complex and connected. Software quality and AI functionality are expected to get a push. Businesses could probably start planning from now on and chalk out a quantum roadmap for quantum to impact enterprise solutions.

Software companies have begun to build software for quantum computers that can take on simulations and cryptography. “Quantum computers are not going to replace classical systems. They’re going to collaborate, work with them in order to solve these intractable problems,” reasoned Robert Loredo, IBM quantum ambassador, worldwide lead and a Qiskit advocate.

It needs to be figured out how enterprises integrate quantum technology into their systems ,or else they could fall behind. A start would be to make resources available. Perhaps a quantum workforce may bridge the gap between research and development. This could happen by re-skilling the existing workforce. Quantum adoption may come through hackathons and by establishing quantum hubs in educational institutions. Physicists could be encouraged to set up labs to experiment with quantum systems. Developers and experts could interact for creating applications in quantum computing and derive near-time use cases that could give clarity on the same. A large problem could be taken up and broken down to fundamentals. This could become a proof-of-concept project. Then it’s essential to develop a quantum-ready workforce to use and program quantum computers and write quantum algorithms and high performance computing architecture.

“The spotlight is on quantum machine learning, quantum simulation and quantum-inspired computation. From the business viewpoint, investments can go towards improving encryption and risk profiling,” explained Loredo.

Quantum applications could be diverse, ranging from quantum cryptography to quantum sensing. Quantum computing is an accelerator for supply-chain operations and smart cities, where the thrust is on lowering energy consumption. Mapping the technology for business needs is still being developed.

As for job openings, quantum service in cyber security could be a possible opening. Quantum vendors, another avenue to look out for, includes tools to build and test quantum computers. In the case of electric vehicles, quantum can be leveraged to improve the efficiency of batteries. A quantum computer programmer is also an option. A talent pool can be built with individuals having expertise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) along with a grasp of programming languages.

“Quantum computing hasn’t yet got its killer app. So this could be an opportunity to create quantum computing apps for diverse applications like solar cells, fusion energy and personalised medicine. Maximising quantum technology to mitigate future risks may seem difficult. That’s because the ‘if’ stage should be replaced with ‘when’ stage, or else we are likely to miss out on the quantum wave,” cautioned futurist Sophie Hackford.

But then, is the market developed for quantum computing? “Quantum computing [can] with some work… by some of the smart people joining me here… make supply chains more efficient and potentially change the world,” according to Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research. Scale, quality and speed are highlights of quantum computers, he noted. “To many, quantum computing could appear to be similar to artificial intelligence (AI), as AI manages our schedules and helps in better decision making. Quantum computing may seem to be similar to AI functions, but actual business needs should map to quantum machines,” he observed

A fundamental understanding of quantum measuring capability may be required to build a system. It should be commercialised and monetised for revenue stream generation. Commercialisation is cue to conversation electronics. To give an example, most of us don’t care of how our cellphone works. We react only when it doesn’t work.  

A futuristic spin could be on how quantum capabilities can be democratised. It may be beneficial to pause and explore emerging use cases, and weigh the benefits and dangers of this engineering marvel.

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