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In 2019, Google announced it had achieved quantum supremacy, a milestone where quantum machines solve a problem that classical computers are unable to solve in any reasonable amount of time. Companies like AWS, Microsoft and IBM also launched quantum computing cloud platforms, which bring the power of quantum computing to customers who can use the services without having to possess the actual hardware.
However, while it seems as if fully functional quantum computers are just around the corner and will be easily accessible to the enterprise, there are still a number of quantum computing challenges to overcome, including accuracy and fault tolerance, which could take at least five more years to complete to ensure its reliability.
Even so, quantum computing is making a significant impact in the enterprise and it's crucial that IT leaders stay on top of the trends.
Here we look at key quantum computing challenges as well as the opportunities that lie ahead.
Quantum's impact on security
Quantum computing is a threat to current cryptographic algorithms, which are no match for quantum superpowers. That is why the transition to quantum-safe algorithms needs to happen now.
"Quantum will change the landscape with respects to computer security, leaving many of the traditional algorithms used for encryption and digital signatures nearly useless," said Chris Hickman, chief security officer at digital identity security vendor Keyfactor. "IT leaders need to [build] a strategy to protect their businesses and have a practical plan to mitigate the inevitable arrival of quantum."
Hickman believes the currently encrypted assets need to be reevaluated and secured in a quantum-resistant way. If it's not done now, a lot can be missed and it will be too late or costly to protect them in the future.
What is the business value?
Quantum computing may still be in its infancy with many unsolved problems, but it is a field that will revolutionize industries like finance, pharmaceuticals, automotive and AI in the next several years. Organizations have to keep up to ensure they gain the competitive edge.
"IT leaders should pay attention to quantum computing now," said Nir Minerbi, CEO of Classiq, the first Israeli startup in the field of quantum computing software. "Competitors are already there, gaining quantum algorithms and IP that will bring a huge competitive advantage in the next few years."
It's going to be challenging for organizations that are not quantum-ready to catch up, according to Christopher Savoie, founder and CEO at Zapata Computing, which builds quantum computing software
He said that quantum computing advancements will have a disruptive impact in every major industry.
For example, financial services organizations and other businesses that rely heavily on statistical modeling of future outcomes will benefit from quantum's ability to perform calculations in ways that go beyond classical capabilities.
Pharmaceutical and material sciences companies will accelerate the discovery of new molecules and compounds with the ability to simulate quantum interactions that are intractable to simulate accurately on classical computers or perform quantum-enhanced machine learning to extract correlations in the data.
"If quantum computing will disrupt your industry, then the pace of acceleration means IT leaders need to be considering investment in quantum now," Savoie said.
In addition to the pace of acceleration, Minerbi noted using quantum algorithms for another important reason: "Fault-tolerant quantum computers are probably 10 years away, but useful quantum algorithms that could be executed on noisy quantum computers exist, and now is the right time to develop them."
Current state of quantum computing
There are initiatives making use of quantum technology in its current state. In 2020, IBM and Daimler used a quantum computer to model the dipole moment of three lithium-containing molecules, bringing us one step closer to next-generation lithium sulfur batteries that would be more powerful, longer-lasting and cheaper than today's widely used lithium ion batteries. IBM also worked with JPMorgan on quantum use cases in finance including research on applying quantum computing to option pricing.
But quantum technology isn't just limited to computing.
"It's important to note that there are many technologies on the market today that use quantum phenomena, including mobile phones," said Deborah Golden, Deloitte's U.S. cyber and strategic risk leader. "While current quantum use cases are limited, they're growing," she said. Such use cases include quantum communications, which offer significant protection against eavesdropping.
Preparing for a quantum future
Understanding the challenges of quantum computing is just one part of the equation, as quantum is an area that's radically different from what companies are used to.
"Unlike classical computers, quantum computers only provide a probable answer," said Vaclav Vincalek, an entrepreneur who helps companies implement leading-edge technologies.
They aren't built to give definitive answers -- instead, the answer they provide is the most probable, which could require verification from a classical computer. For example, a quantum computer might figure the most probable answer for breaking an encryption algorithm but will need the classical computer to test the answer to determine whether it actually breaks.
As such, even coding for quantum technology is a new challenge. Before there was an actual quantum operating system, there was no easy way to port or reuse the code between different platforms.
How important is quantum computing really?
While quantum computing has the immense potential to change how real-world problems are solved, there are still several hard engineering problems to overcome first, thus leaving organizations without a timeline of when it can actually be of use in the enterprise.
"You have to be skeptical and optimistic at the same time," said Brian Hopkins, analyst at Forrester. "No one is quite sure when these engineering problems are going to be solved. It's like you're sitting in the age of the Alan Turing and the Enigma machine."
That's the problem with quantum computing. There is a whole lot of hype and it could be one of the most revolutionary technologies we'll ever see that if you're not ahead of it, it could run you over, according to Hopkins.
So, should organizations really start paying attention to it?
Yes, Hopkins said, but it's important to understand that it might not be worth putting the time, money and effort into the technology until the engineering problems are solved.
"It's one of those tough ones," said Hopkins. "You can't, like mobile adoption, draw a line and say we're going to get there then. The best estimate of when we're actually going to have quantum computers that are powerful enough to solve real-world problems in a meaningful way [is] probably more than five years -- probably 10 to 15 [years]."
It is likely that the average CIO won't have much exposure to quantum computing, according to Hopkins -- at least, for now.
"Unless you're a university or NASA -- a research-oriented or multi-billion-dollar company with a huge R&D budget where it makes sense to buy a supercomputer -- you're going to rent supercomputers from the folks who have them."