Quantum computing may sound like sci-fi, but it is inching closer every year: according to research firm IDC, the quantum market reached $412 million in 2020 and is expected to grow to $8.6 billion in 2027.
As the technology evolves, several global companies, such as IBM, Google, and Amazon, to name a few, have committed or started to offer solutions. Rather than a distant promise, the world is witnessing the beginning of a revolution.
This is not a new topic, however. In 1980, American scientist Paul Benioff published a paper demonstrating that quantum computers were theoretically possible. In 1996, Bell Labs’ Lov Grover invented the quantum search algorithm. In 2011, Canadian company D-Wave Systems sold the first commercial quantum computer.
So, does it mean you and I will have a quantum machine on our tables first thing in the morning?
“Researchers believe that quantum computing can overcome the current computational limitations in both speed and efficiency,” explained Marcelo Ferreira, Project Manager at CESAR, Professor at CESAR School and Digital Transformation Consultant.
He spoke at Brazilian ecommerce event Forum E-Commerce Brasil, in a presentation made in partnership with another researcher, Professor Erico Souza Teixeira from CESAR School. “This does not mean that quantum computers will replace normal computers.”
Our regular machines work with bits: the zeros and ones that you have probably heard about. The computer can only process one piece of information at a time because that is how physics works in the “normal” world.
When it comes to quantum devices, the story is a little peculiar: instead of bits, they use the qubit, a basic unit of information in which zeros and ones are – roughly speaking – at the same place, at the same time. That means a quantum computer can process more data, making it suitable for very, very complex tasks. It’s more powerful than any supercomputer we currently have.
As you can imagine, the infrastructure to maintain this kind of operation differs from the everyday machine. The device has to be kept in a room at an extremely low temperature to make qubits operate the right way – near absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius or minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit).
Not to mention the price of the hardware itself: around $15 million, even though start-ups are trying to offer much simpler machines as low as $5,000.
You and I can do just fine with our traditional computers to share memes or listen to our favourite music platform for now.
Fortunately, You Don’t Have to Buy a Quantum Computer
Unless the company you work for has heavy research or processing demands and has the budget to spend on such technology, most of us, for the foreseeable future, will not own a quantum computer. It doesn’t mean we will not benefit from its capabilities.
IBM, for example, offers “quantum in the cloud” – that is, you can run quantum programs on IBM’s computers. They even offer an open free plan in which users can experiment with quantum, accessing real 7-qubit and 5-qubit QPUs (as opposed to the regular CPU). The company’s most advanced machine carries 127-qubit, and it expects to launch a 433-qubit processor later this year.
According to Ferreira, the development of such solutions has enabled businesses to start planning the use of quantum capabilities. “In Brazil, a large private bank has started to experiment with it to process a sample of thousands of customers to predict who would likely not be a client in the near future,” he gave as an example. The idea of the project is to increase customer retention.
Another area where the professor sees fit is ecommerce. “A good example is [Canadian grocery chain] Save on Foods,” he explained. “The company doesn’t sell only food, but medicine too. They needed to optimise delivery routes, a task that would normally take over 25 hours to be processed. They’ve cut it to two minutes [using quantum computing].”
According to the expert, applying quantum for business demands planning, and there’s even a roadmap to help people who want to start thinking using the technology:
- The first step is identifying business problems where quantum can make a difference,
- Second, build a small team of experts,
- Then, translate the most potent use cases to small-scale quantum algorithms that can run on today’s hardware and demonstrate future value,
- Strike long-term partnerships with technology providers to overcome technical obstacles,
- And develop a long-term strategy to scale your talent and skill base.
Besides developing the technology itself, Ferreira believes the biggest challenge to make quantum more popular is knowledge. In Brazil, there are initiatives to train 500 people in quantum computing and spread the word.
The intersection between tech and humans, in Ferreira’s opinion, will be pivotal. “In the industry sector, quantum could mean the next big revolution,” he said.
Journalist since eight years old, when I would read the newspaper out loud and pretend it was a radio show. Based in São Paulo, I have worked for Brazilian websites as reporter and editor before joining 6GWorld