Quantum computing, which harnesses the classic-physics bending behaviour of sub-atomic particles, is one of the most exciting examples of the latest technology that will shape our future world. The technology is still in its infancy but has already reached an experimental stage of practical application that indicates it could feasibly challenge swathes of what we think we know about the world within five to ten years.
Classic computing is based on binary ‘bits’ represented as 1 and 0. Quantum bits, or qubits as they are known, can represent both 1 and 0 at the same time. Joining up strings of qubits results in an exponential rise in the number of states they could represent, which in turn, makes it possible to compute millions of theoretical variables and outcomes instantly. This means that quantum computers will theoretically be able to precisely model sub-atomic particles rather than build approximations.
Currently, the qubits computer scientists at companies such as IBM, Alphabet and specialist quantum computing start-ups such as Cambridge Quantum Computing are able to create are unstable. They hold their quantum state of being able to represent both 1 and 0 for a small fraction of a second. When they are strung together, it is difficult to coincide their quantum state, which leads to unpredictable interactions and high error rates.
However, even at today’s stage of quantum computing’s development, enough promise has been shown and progress made that major companies in some of the world economy’s major sectors have started to invest in the technology. Over the last few years, prototype quantum processors have developed from those comprising of small number of qubits to dozens. That’s bringing us close to the point where this branch of the latest technology in the world where physics meets computer science can compute models so far beyond the capabilities of classical computational systems that they weren’t even on the horizon.
Quantum Computing in Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals
One of the first results of advances in quantum computing technology will be the modelling of molecules. We are already close to being able to use quantum processing to model very basic molecules such as caffeine and penicillin. Being able to model molecules means that we will be able to synthetically recreate them as well as alter and combine them to make new materials. Even in the case we are already have processes, quantum computing would be expected to lead to them becoming far more efficient.
This has potentially huge repercussions for the chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries. More efficient solar cells made from synthetic materials of optimal efficiency, extracting nitrogen from the air for fertiliser (nitrogen fixation) and ‘game changing’ new drugs are all quantum computing outcomes thought to be on the horizon and expected to start becoming a reality within 10 years.
Seeing the early potential in its sector, Tokyo-listed chemical materials company JSR Corporation has already taken a 5.5% ownership stake in Cambridge Quantum Computing.
In the finance sector, JPMorgan Chase has been committing research resources to quantum computing for a couple of years now. The huge numbers of variables in financial markets modelling makes the sector a natural application. Quantum computing will, according to IBM researcher Bob Sutor, “map financial problems to similar problems in physics and then map them back”.
Quantum systems would be expected to be hugely more powerful than today’s AI algorithms and as well as predicting financial markets movements could be used to build risk management systems for the banking and finance sector.
Today’s cryptography has a major security weakness that experts are concerned could be blown open by the dawn of quantum computing. That is that ‘randomly’ generated codes are not actually completely random. They are generated by algorithms that work to a particular set of instructions. While the variables are immense enough for it to never have mattered that ‘random’ isn’t actually ‘random’, the computing power of quantum computers would be able to crack such codes.
One predicted early application of quantum computing is to counteract the inherent threat quantum computing poses to contemporary cryptology. It will be used to create ‘unhackable’ new systems to protect the world from itself.