How to Make the Quantum (Computing) Leap

If you’ve been reading a lot about quantum computing recently, you likely have a few questions.

Some of those questions may be about how quantum computing works. After all, it is very different from other kinds of computing. (You can learn a little about the basics in the recent CIO article Are you ready for quantum computing?)

You probably have one other very important question: What can quantum computing do for my business?

Until recently, most of the conversation about quantum computing has been academic. Researchers have been focused on getting the technology to work and engineers have been building systems with more qubits.

Now the emphasis is starting to shift to actual use cases as organizations take a closer look at quantum.

In a recent conversation, Victor Fong, Distinguished Engineer at Dell, and Michael Robillard, Sr. Distinguished Engineer at Dell, offered their thoughts on what quantum computing can do for businesses. The short answer is that quantum acts as an accelerator, allowing computers to complete some kinds of processing much more quickly than has ever been possible before.

To understand what that means, Fong and Robillard recommend that organizations get started by examining the technology. They laid out three steps they believe companies should be taking today:

1. Discover the potential of quantum computing

You may not have quantum computing experts on your staff today. That’s okay because your competitors almost certainly don’t have any quantum experts either. Only a small group of people currently have the expertise to be considered true experts in quantum computing.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert to get started.

The first stage of preparing your organization for quantum computing is to do some foundational research. Look up some introductory guides. Read some articles. If you don’t know where to begin, Dell has a Quantum Computing Resource Center with white papers, analyst reports and recent news about quantum.

Be prepared to be a little confused at first.

Quantum computing is fundamentally different from the classical computers you use every day. Quantum computers rely on the principles of quantum mechanics, which Albert Einstein once described as “spooky action at a distance.” Quantum computing might seem strange — maybe even spooky — at first. But it operates by some basic rules that you can understand.

The computer hardware is also quite a bit different than what you’re used to. Quantum computers store information in qubits. Qubits operate at atomic scale, which means they are very, very small. They are also quite delicate. Small changes in the environment, referred to as “noise,” can easily disrupt the system enough that it cannot function as intended.

Developing and deploying systems built around these minuscule, sensitive parts is both difficult and expensive. But engineers are also developing simulators that mimic how quantum computers work. These simulators can be used to experiment with quantum.

2. Identify some quantum use cases for your organization

Once you understand the basics of quantum computing, you’ll be ready to start brainstorming ways that your organization can use the technology. 

Not every computing problem is well-suited to quantum processing. You wouldn’t want to use a quantum computer to do any kind of calculation that has one right answer. For example, you shouldn’t use a quantum computer to calculate your tax bill or process your payroll.

On the other hand, quantum computers can be very good at solving optimization problems. If you need to choose the best answer from a group of possible right answers, quantum computing may be ideal.

Some organizations are already experimenting with quantum computing for a variety of use cases:

Logistics and transportation firms are trying quantum computing as a way to find the most fuel-efficient, fastest and safest routes to deliver cargo and passengers while accounting for weather and traffic.

Financial firms want quantum computing to optimize their portfolios and maximize returns while mitigating risk.

Chemical and materials manufacturers seek to harness the power of quantum computing to come up with new formulas and model how a material’s properties will change under various conditions.

Drug companies want quantum computing to develop new treatments and vaccines for debilitating illnesses.

Auto manufacturers are testing quantum computing to help optimize the large batteries necessary for electric vehicles.

Technology companies of all kinds are experimenting to help develop new products and services or optimize those they already offer.

Even if you aren’t in one of these industries, you probably have similar use cases where quantum computing would be helpful. The key is to look for situations that are difficult to model because of a large number of variables. You also want use cases that are intrinsic to your business, where improving operations would have a large impact on your bottom line.

3. Deploy a test case.

Believe it or not, it’s not too early to start experimenting with quantum computing.

Anyone can download the open source Qiskit software development kit (SDK) that allows you to write code that will run on quantum systems.

A few vendors already offer access to quantum systems, although using these systems for experimentation can become expensive quickly.

Many people find it more affordable to begin by testing on a simulator. Quantum simulators use classical computing hardware to simulate the operation of quantum systems. They allow engineers to keep costs low while perfecting the code that they want to run on the quantum system. Simulators can also alleviate some data privacy concerns, and they eliminate the previously mentioned problem of quantum noise.

Finding the right tool for the job

Different kinds of computers are a little like the different kinds of saws you might use for woodworking. You can do most kinds of cutting with a standard circular saw. In the same way, a classical computer can do most kinds of calculations.

But some kinds of woodworking — like intricate scrollwork — are almost impossible to do with a circular saw. For that, you would want a jigsaw or even a scroll saw. And while you can do miter cuts with a circular saw, it’s a lot easier with a miter saw. A quantum computer should be thought of as a specialized tool. It won’t ever replace classic computing, but it makes some specialized tasks a whole lot faster and easier.

While engineers have made a lot of progress designing and building quantum computers, we’re still in the early days of the quantum era. Right now, quantum computing isn’t right for a lot of situations.

But as time goes on and the technology improves, quantum computing will become a better choice more often. And organizations that have already begun experimenting with the technology will have a head start.

That’s why now is the time to get started — learn more about quantum computing, identify test cases and begin to experiment.


Read more about Dell Technologies Quantum Computing here.

Read more about Intel Quantum Computing here.

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