Quantum computing is still in its infancy but is expected to become more powerful — and therefore more useful to humans for a wide variety of tasks — in the coming years. Their quantum properties and ability to drastically reduce compute time make them well suited for solving tasks that would be difficult for classical computers to handle.
The following video describes how quantum computers work:
These computers aren’t meant to be used in the same way we use computers now, partly because of the involved infrastructure needed to maintain them. In fact, most companies and organizations won’t have one. But they will be accessible to scientists, universities, and large companies and through services such as Google via the cloud.
Here we take a look at some critical applications quantum computers may be able to support, including healthcare, sustainability, and food production and distribution.
Keeping People Healthy
Quantum computing can help healthcare researchers diagnose diseases in individual patients, understand symptom patterns among populations, and develop new drugs. In disease diagnosis, healthcare professionals will be able to incorporate multiple data sets into their process and more quickly identify harmful genetic mutations or combinations. Additionally, quantum imaging solutions will be able to help radiologists more effectively evaluate images, leading to more accurate diagnoses of internal problems.
These computers will also be able to quickly detect symptom patterns among large populations, leading to faster understanding of existing and new diseases. For drug discovery, quantum computers can be used to quickly examine molecule databases to find targets and discover potential drugs with desired properties. This ability will be useful as personalized healthcare becomes more common.
Feeding the World
Data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI) have already contributed to global food security by creating more resilient and bountiful crops, improving farming practices, and decreasing weed and pest problems. Quantum computing can take these solutions a step further by accelerating calculations that lead to these outcomes as well as the process of optimizing plant properties without the need for time-consuming crossbreeding.
The barriers to optimizing food production aren’t the only problems preventing everyone from getting enough nutrition. Another issue is efficiently getting food to the people who need it. According to Food Logistics, “The world produces enough food to support an estimated 10 billion people, but each year, roughly one third of it is lost to supply chain inefficiency.” Quantum computing can assist by finding the most efficient routes for carriers to use.
Addressing Climate Change
Quantum computers can assist researchers in improving carbon capture, which helps reduce the number of pollutants in the atmosphere causing planetary climate change. According to Quantum Computing Report:
- ExxonMobil and IBM are working together to use quantum simulations to further carbon sequestration research.
- Microsoft intends to use quantum computers to assist in direct air capture.
- In Europe, energy provider Total is working with Cambridge Quantum Computing to achieve carbon neutrality in their energy production by 2050.
The eventual replacement of gas-powered vehicles by EVs is widely viewed as one of the most critical moves necessary to decrease greenhouse gases (GHG) and, therefore, reverse climate change. Quantum computers can additionally be used to improve electric vehicle (EV) battery design, such as those requiring fewer recharges. With solid-state electric battery development, quantum computing can also help solve the problem of e-waste from the disposal of lithium-ion batteries that are no longer operable.
Updating Energy Delivery
Quantum computing can help the energy industry in multiple ways. First, by more efficiently processing energy system data, it can help energy grids function more effectively as they incorporate a variety of energy sources, including wind, solar, and other renewables. Cleantech Group states, “Problems such as grid topology control, synthetic grid inertia modeling and large-scale cross-network transactive energy will be more manageable.”
Another area within the energy industry that will benefit is the analysis of customer data. Smart meters, smart buildings, and other connected devices provide large volumes of data that can be analyzed to improve operations and deliver targeted solutions to customers. Quantum computing can be useful for helping utility operators integrate and draw useful conclusions from this data.
As anyone who keeps up with business or computing news well knows, cyberattacks are becoming more frequent as cybercriminals monitor and develop new ways to breach cybersecurity efforts. Security professionals continue to create new solutions and train workforces on proper safety protocols, but these actions will be greatly enhanced with quantum computing.
Forbes Councils Member Paul Lipman explains 4 ways in which quantum technology will impact cybersecurity:
- Quantum random number generation, which use quantum optics to generate sources of true randomness
- Quantum-secure communications, such as the sharing of cryptographic keys between parties, which allows them to privately exchange information
- The controversial process of breaking public-key cryptography, specifically the Rivest–Shamir–Adleman (RSA) algorithm, which would take a classical computer trillion of years to break
- The enablement of exponentially faster, more time- and energy-efficient machine learning algorithms, which enable novel attacks to be detected and blocked
While some of these outcomes will be good for companies, others will introduce new risks, and businesses will need to upgrade their hardware to mitigate the challenges of the new quantum future.
Explore the Potential
The common use of quantum computers is still a few years off. Challenges — such as building the considerable infrastructure needed to support them, advancing the technology to achieve a sufficient number of qubits (the basic unit of information in quantum computing), and training the first generation of quantum computing professionals — must be overcome before they can be widely deployed.
However, governments, researchers, and businesses are now preparing for the shift that will inevitably occur when that time comes. The areas mentioned here are just a few of the many industries that will benefit from the accelerated abilities of this new form of computing. Others include manufacturing, telecom, and travel.
While quantum computing may seem like just one more far-future technology, it may be worth exploring how it can support your company, no matter what industry you’re in.