Are you thinking of investing in quantum computing (QC)? My advice is "don’t."
Instead, you should stick to modernizing your legacy technology with tried and true software innovations.
Contrary to some pundits’ recent predictions that quantum computing (QC) could be used in “complex calculations” in financial markets within the next five years, I think it has a lot further to go before being of any business use.
Today, we have some 50 physical qubits working. We need at least 1,000 (logical) qubits to do something useful. That means the number of qubits needs to double every 14 months (CAGR 82%) - even faster than Moore’s Law.
Actually, because we have too much “noise” in current QCs, for realistic, longer running algorithms (like breaking codes) you’d need a factor of 100 or 1,000 more physical qubits, which means that you need to multiply the yearly growth rate of 82% by 2.5 or 4.0. That means QCs will have to grow at a rate of 360-620% per year for the next five years to make this true.
The ONLY exception I can see is to use QCs to simulate other quantum systems – like chemical reactions, catalysts, etc. But that would not be general computing but a highly specialized single application.
Looking for problems to fit the solution
One of the best kept secrets of quantum computing is that it has yet to prove whether it can solve computable problems that ordinary computers are able to tackle. The initial “proof” by David Deutsch (1985), one of the fathers of QC, is known to contain flaws.
The QC software community has been feverishly looking for sensible quantum algorithms which would solve real business problems. But, despite the hype and hope for commercial uses of the next great supercomputer, there are simply no solutions or algorithms today running on any quantum computer that a business would pay money for.
In light of the fact that there is no Moore’s Law for software engineering in general, and even less so for inventing or finding new sensible business algorithms, the QC software business will not evolve in a steady incremental fashion, but rather in the form of punctuated equilibria - with a good deal of chance involved.
It is my opinion that, today, businesses (like Software AG and most, if not all, of our clients) should not - no, must not – spend valuable time worrying about QC’s evolution. Obviously, you care about new solutions to existing or future problems (like becoming more CO2 efficient), or for opening novel opportunities (such as establishing trustless ecosystems).
Diminishing hype – and returns
But, as can be seen with the diminishing hype on blockchain, it is utterly insufficient for any new technology to merely shout out “Me too, I can also solve this [insert your favorite business problem here]” and claim to be capable of doing what any current tech can do.
The new way of doing things needs to be an improvement, fulfilling at least one non-functional requirement to a technical solution better (e.g., cheaper, faster) than anything (!) else available to date.
This is exactly the point where the promise of QC seems to have lost touch with current and future business requirements. There are simply no business-relevant algorithms or software at your disposal that solve practically interesting problems.
Now many of you will further hasten to add that we do not have scalable quantum computers at all. The largest currently operational systems feature some 50+ physical qubits: Much too few to allow reliable calculations due to the extremely strong (negative) interference of the environment with the (quite nervous) quantum calculator.
Yet, something like a Moore’s Law will also happen in the quantum realm – and in 5-10 years we’ll see quantum computers with 1,000 (logical) qubits, which is sufficiently large to — at least in principle — be able of calculating useful stuff. Unfortunately, however, that’s useless without any proper software.
There is one small subset of quantum features (it’s not really quantum computation we are using for this) where we will see rapid adoption within the next 4-6 years – and that is quantum communication.
Imagine you have a piece of information; let’s say the ultimate password for all your other passwords and wallets and bitcoins - and yes, we are still talking 0s and 1s here - which has to be kept maximally secret. But it still needs to be sent in total privacy over unsecure communication links to a recipient.
There quantum communication will give you a means of transport which is unbreakable in practice and in physical-mathematical theory. Note that this is completely different from the way encryption works today. All current encryption schemes rely on some mathematical functions which are very difficult to break – with “difficult” meaning that it will take an awful amount of time (!) and money to successfully decode a message.
With quantum communication (and encryption) you can mathematically prove that there is no algorithm or way to break the encryption. None whatsoever. Even better, the laws of quantum physics also give you an undefeatable means to detect if anybody has eavesdropped on your communication. You can bet that every organization which relies on cryptographic keys to secure some of their assets or infrastructure will use this form of ultimately secure form of communication regularly
Every prediction for 2021 mentioned quantum computing; but is not even close to ready for business use. It is easy to get pulled in by the allure of shiny new tech, but that's a good way to spend time and money on projects that don't work out. Instead, stay focused on what's really going to help your business, like taking the burden of platform building, management or optimization away from your business.
This can reduce the time between new ideas or strategies being conceived and becoming a reality. One way to do this is to automate infrastructure-related complexity, such as integration, process discovery or data management. This allows new services to be set up across the company more quickly.
It could also take the form of low-code or no code tools that allow line of business employees to apply digital tools themselves. A new wave of digitally savvy employees using low-code tools will bring technology into the real world.
QC is the latest “something shiny” and has real promise in the world of communications and – eventually - maybe business. But now is the time to focus on the things that will make a much quicker impact on your business.
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