“Enterprises have the quantum software development tools at their fingertips right now to start building quantum-ready applications that will help solve their biggest challenges.” Michael Warren, VP of Business Development
Through our collaboration with enterprise partners in industries such as logistics, finance, healthcare and biopharma, my colleagues and I get asked a LOT of questions. Enterprises want to know when quantum will really be here, the applications where quantum computing might first provide an advantage over classical, and the steps they can take now to prepare for the inevitable.
Our CEO, Christopher Savoie, has answered some of these questions previously in Forbes and InsideBIGDATA, but I thought I would expand the conversation here to cover five questions we hear frequently.
1. What types of applications will quantum computing enable?
Quantum computing will be applied in the nearest term (1-3 years out) to artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) and optimization problems.
Quantum computers can substantially reduce the time needed to train ML models, particularly when a generative adversarial network (GAN) is supplemented with a quantum circuit capable of more quickly finding latent structures in the network’s data. This ability to explore datasets and probability spaces means that quantum can, in the near term, improve portfolio optimization models or more quickly find the solution to complex logistics scenarios such as the Traveling Salesman Problem (finding the shortest route connecting a set of destinations). Indeed, we are already working with a major distributor of consumer packaged goods to optimize their vast distribution networks with near-term quantum methods.
These capabilities, at the intersection of optimization and ML, can easily be extended to other use cases such as patient selection for clinical trials, supply chains and manufacturing, and advertising.
Further out, the ability for quantum computers to model and simulate complex and even exotic scenarios will transform industries. For example, quantum simulations will speed up the discovery process for new materials and new drugs. Molecular interactions are governed by quantum mechanics, making quantum computers a natural fit for modeling molecules, predicting their properties, and simulating their interaction with other molecules. We are currently working with a top 5 global energy company to improve the viability of this sort of quantum chemistry.
While, as mentioned, optimization in finance has near-term potential, the modeling and simulation capabilities will also have a long-term impact in this field. Forecasting future economic conditions and evaluating risk scenarios involving multiple variables is incredibly complex and time-consuming. Quantum computing will be able to create better models faster, increasing the predictive power of fund managers and other investors, allowing them to better anticipate volatility, risk and emerging opportunities.
2. When are these changes likely to arrive?
The changes will come sooner than you think, and we can’t wait for the hardware race to play out to begin building solutions with today’s nascent devices. Honeywell is already offering enterprise customers cloud-based access to their H1 quantum computer. IBM plans to launch a 1,000 qubit device by 2023. And although the age of true quantum supremacy (when quantum devices truly outpace their classical counterparts for certain tasks) is likely still 5-10 years away, enterprises don’t need to — and shouldn’t — wait to start exploring quantum use cases and building production pilot solutions today.
Enterprises have the quantum software development tools at their fingertips right now to start building quantum-ready applications that will help solve their biggest challenges. Those that do the hard work of getting these applications into production now will have solutions ready to swap in more powerful quantum devices on the backend as they become available. Those that start building quantum-ready applications will be the first to see a decisive competitive advantage as the technology continues to evolve.
3. Will the changeover be gradual or abrupt?
The changeover has already started. Fortune 500 companies are building quantum-ready applications today. That being said, seeing the full impact of quantum will be a gradual process. Quantum Advantage will be achieved in different ways in different industries at different times, depending on the different quantum architectures and the use cases involved. This process will, however, accelerate as error mitigation techniques and algorithms evolve and organizations are able to get more out of current Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) devices.
There will also never be a complete transition from classical to quantum computing. Instead, we should think of quantum computers as specialized accelerators for situations where the complexity of the problem is too great for classical computers. In fact, quantum computers will always need classical computers for pre- and post-processing of data. This hybrid approach, with classical and quantum working in tandem, is the future.
It’s also important to remember that quantum is just one of several exotic compute options – neuromorphic, photonic (classical, not quantum photonic), and biological computing being three others currently in various stages of development that will likely augment classical capabilities.
4. What steps can an enterprise take today to prepare for quantum computing?
The first step would be to figure out what problems you hope to solve with quantum computing. The most viable near-term investments are in applying quantum to machine learning and optimization problems. However, enterprises should consult with quantum experts to review their business, their goals and their IT capabilities, and build specific quantum milestones into their road maps from there.
Once you have a concrete understanding of the problems you’d like to solve with quantum computing, you can start focusing your resources on building the algorithms, the infrastructure and the workforce you need to get to production. This will require assembling diverse teams featuring data scientists, domain experts, people with the ability to create and work with quantum algorithms, as well as those capable of implementing and managing QuantumOps™.
From an infrastructure perspective, you’ll need to start building a full computational workflow, incorporating data management, analytics and other capabilities required to make quantum applications (which are still mostly classical, remember!) useful from a business perspective.
There is no quantum advantage without applications and solutions in production, and enterprises should not wait until more mature devices emerge. Ultimately, the focus should be on locking up IP and deploying quantum-ready applications that are mostly classical with a few powerful quantum steps that rely on today’s quantum devices. If you wait for more powerful devices to emerge, you simply won’t catch up.
5. What is my immediate to-do?
Find a partner that can help you build pilots focused on production – not POCs – where the classical part of a solution fully supports the quantum part. This means the quantum portion will be small but powerful, but you’ll have accounted for it in architecture and have more permission to swap in new quantum hardware as it comes.
In parallel, begin building the internal capability of deconstructing and reconstructing problems for quantum solutions. This means hiring from an already scarce quantum talent pool while helping your most advanced existing AI/ML talent upskill to a quantum mindset, where they integrate quantum concepts into developing models from the outset.
Enterprise has questions. We help them find answers and accelerate their paths to quantum.
Quantum is hard. Wicked hard, as people say in Boston, Zapata’s HQ. This is especially true without the quantum expertise that very few companies have in-house. Our goal in every engagement is to bring our deep quantum expertise and strong enterprise experience to bear to help answer these questions while considering every customer’s unique needs.
Doing so means balancing the current needs of the enterprise with the future promises of fully quantum devices. We go into each engagement with the objective of creating a business impact in the near-term while building capabilities and flexible software that works across a wide range of technology and hardware partners. Our Swiss Army Knife of a modular, workflow-based platform, Orquestra®, helps enterprises build quantum-ready™ applications for deployment.
Our team is your resource for your journey to quantum. If you’re curious about what that journey looks like in detail, please get in touch – BD@zapatacomputing.com – and we’ll be happy to share more.