Is there a reason normal CIOs should be thinking about the state of quantum computing? It depends on how one defines normal, was Brian Hopkins’ answer. Hopkins is a Forrester Research analyst who focuses on emerging tech.
“It’s very much dependent on the industry you’re in. We think the first breakthroughs in quantum computing are likely to be in the chemical and physical sciences,” Hopkins said.
Drug manufacturers that do molecular research, car manufacturers working on new battery technology, things that involve chemical processes at an atomic level are all a “natural fit” for quantum computing. Oil and gas companies trying to solve the massively complicated computational problems related to geology are interested in quantum sensors and the relation between high-performance computing and quantum power. “We think these [use cases] will be the first out the chute,” he said.
But the reason every industry will eventually be interested in the state of quantum computing, Hopkins said, is optimization. “Finding the optimal answer out of a whole bunch of possible answers is something that potentially quantum computers could do — and some say can do now, although there is a bit of an argument about that,” he said.
State of quantum computing: IBM Q System One
My query to Hopkins was related to a blog post he wrote assessing the debut of IBM’s Q System One, ballyhooed by the company as “the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.” The product’s fully integrated system and modularity represent an advance in quantum computing systems, Hopkins wrote. But designed for scientific and commercial use, doesn’t mean the Q System One or any other quantum computing infrastructure under development is ready for commercial use. “No QC today (universal or annealing) can do anything better than a digital computer at this point,” Hopkins told me.
Surpassing digital computers will require an increase in not only the number of qubits that can be generated — the feature that grabs the most media attention — but also significant technical improvements to the amount of time qubits remain stable and the depth of their connectivity to each other. “We think it will be between three and five years before we see main stream applications of quantum computing being used to solve a few select business problems, ” Hopkins said.
CIOs should take a ‘practical approach’ to QC
In the meantime, Forrester put out guidance this week for CIOs on the state of quantum computing. An April 26 report, “Quantum Computing: Technology Infrastructure Deep Dive,” estimates that it will take at least five years before quantum computers are large enough to “disrupt every industry.”
The report’s lead author Charlie Dai urges CIOs to “take a pragmatic approach to quantum computing.” First, CIOs should learn about the characteristics a true universal quantum computer must have. (Dai lays out six characteristics in the report.) Second, they should keep abreast of early indications of commercial practicality, and third, embrace cloud platforms for future quantum innovation, as the public cloud is where IBM and other companies, including Chinese companies like Alibaba and Huawei, are providing quantum computing as a service.