“Unclear”. “Uncertain if ever available”. “Difficult”. “No practical applications”.
After hearing these comments, a CEO probably wouldn´t be eager to present quantum technology at the strategy meeting of executives or to the board of directors. Though they should.
It is true, that it is still early days before quantum technology can deliver practical benefits to companies. Just like any other new and disruptive technology, quantum technology seems unclear and difficult to grasp at first.
An executive leading a business feels the urge to learn about new sources of significant competitive edge and be warned about possible dangers to prepare for.
Big steps of development
Quantum computing reached a significant milestone in 2019. Google’s 54 qubit computer completed a task in 200 seconds, which would have taken roughly ten thousand years for a regular computer. Yes, the task solved a very specific problem, and there’s still some way to go until practical applications, but the result is still remarkable.
For the first time, a quantum computer solved something impossible for a regular computer. This is called quantum supremacy and Google’s computer achieved that last year.
Another manufacturer of quantum computers, IonQ, announced that they achieved quantum supremacy already before Google, but withheld the information to avoid conflicts that Google’s announcement and IBM’s fierce denial of Google’s results have caused. IonQ has set a goal to double the number of qubits of their quantum computer annually. The number of qubits indicates the power of the quantum computer in the same way as people have been measuring how many transistors are in a microprocessor.
Unclarity is a part of creating something radically new. People disagree on direction, timing and even which problems are central to solve first. Many different technologies are at odds with each other, and a clear winning technology hasn’t been discovered yet. Quantum technology keeps on improving, that much is certain, it is the schedule for all these milestones that remain in the dark.
Commercially useful implementations will be in use in the 2020s, but a universal quantum computer will probably have to wait for at least 10 years, maybe more.
Finland is a strong participant in the field of quantum technology
Finland is in a good position. Several trailblazing quantum start-ups like IQM and Bluefors have been born in Finland. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland announced they will acquire the first quantum computer in Finland. The project begins with the acquisition of a five-qubit computer and the goal is to increase the number of qubits significantly in the coming years. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland’s project is important to both Finland and Europe because knowledge and the birth of new earning models form by being a part of the ecosystem when it is being formed.
Finland is also a part of the European Quantum Communication Network, which aims to develop and ensure a secure infrastructure for the needs of communication in the quantum age.
At the end of the article is a short description of what quantum technology is.
Next up is a ten-point list of reasons why quantum technology should be taken seriously. Now is the right time to think when this could be topical for your business, and how your competitors will act.
10 reasons why quantum technology should be on your board’s agenda now
I interviewed experts of different fields for this article and compiled their views into a 10 point list.
Quantum technology will affect all fields of humanity, business, and the universe, so this list will only give a summary of what the future could be. With the help of this list, businesses and boards of other organizations can begin to get acquainted with the quantum world.
The development of business processes has come so far, that significant steps of improvement are harder and harder to make anymore.
Material management, logistics, production, service processes, and marketing are areas where the optimizing capabilities of a quantum computer can give a significant edge in improving productivity.
As a single example, a manufacturing robot has been programmed to be as efficient as it possibly can using modern technology. With a quantum computer, the trajectories of a welding robot could be optimized multiple times, which would bring cost-effectiveness and improve energy efficiency.
2. R & D
There are industries, where the amount of data is so massive, that it is almost impossible to model the operation and dynamics of the object. Research is done by experimentation and modeling and still desired precision can’t be reached.
For example, the medical industry is looking to quantum computing for solutions to simulate molecular dynamics, to avoid testing through trial and error.
R & D and conclusions become faster and more accurate, and we’ll have new medicine and vaccines faster at our disposal to combat new diseases.
3. Climate change
What we know about our climate today, is the result of thousands of scientists and their work, but there is still much to discover.
What does the climate system consist of, how could the effects of climate change be modeled and combined with other fields of science to find even better solutions?
These are some of the questions we want quantum technology to solve, and we believe that the new computing power will bring about these solutions.
Quantum sensors are also helping combat the effects of climate change, as they gather information more accurately than modern sensors.
4. Forecasting and Foreseeing
AI and machine learning have already brought great change to analyzing, forecasting, and foreseeing. However, there are still areas where the amounts of data are so massive, that the computing power of traditional computers isn’t enough to analyze and produce accurate forecasts.
Weather forecasting could be significantly more accurate with the help of a quantum computer. Thanks to the computing power of a quantum computer, banks, and financial businesses can more easily tackle fraud, also estimate risks and profits.
In co-operation with quantum computer company D-Wave, Volkswagen has carried out traffic optimization tests using quantum algorithms. The goals of traffic optimization are saving time and energy, minimizing emissions, and keeping traffic fluent. In a test in Lisbon, bus drivers could avoid traffic situations even before they emerged.
In the future quantum computers can control the movements of autonomous vehicles, while regarding ever-changing circumstances and environmental changes.
Italian telecommunications operator TIM is the first in Europe to implement quantum computing algorithms, in planning its next-generation mobile networks.
6. Solving complicated problems
A quantum computer can help businesses solve customer’s problems a million times faster than their competitors according to DIF’s blog. A traditional computer functions in a linear way between ones and zeros. A quantum computer works differently – ones and zeros function simultaneously in a superposition.
Complicated problems are complicated because there are multiple layers. In his book “Decoding Reality” Physicist and professor, Vladko Vedral uses a library as an example. For a traditional computer, finding a specific title out of a million titles in a library would take a couple of weeks, when a quantum computer could do the same in a matter of minutes.
The capability to solve complex and multi-layered problems will certainly give a competitive edge for pioneers.
7. Individual healthcare
15 years ago, cholesterol pills were one of the most popular medicines on the market. Later it was discovered, that cholesterol pills weren’t for everybody. Medical science has developed towards a more personalized direction, more patients get precision medication for their ailments. But a big leap is still possible through quantum technology.
A human being consists of many layers of “omics”, genomics, metabolomics, microbiomics, and so on. What also affects health is the environment, social conditions, mental factors, etc.
With quantum technologies – for example, quantum computing and sensors – the whole of a person can be observed even faster and be provided with proper individualized measures and medication.
The impact will be significant on public health, economy, and welfare.
8. Information and cyber safety
The biggest threat of quantum technology is, that it could cause the breakdown of modern encryption methods.
Post-quantum cryptography projects develop encryption methods that can’t be broken with a quantum computer. In May 2020 SSH.COM received significant funding from Business Finland for a post-quantum cryptography project.
Samsung has already introduced a quantum-safe phone for the 2020 market.
There are many views on the threats to cybersecurity, but the most important thing is to understand what would be at risk in a company’s security if a quantum machine could break it. Companies must be aware of this now and act.
9. Machine learning
Quantum machine learning is one of the most interesting areas of quantum computing.
When a machine can handle vast amounts of data and learn individually how to solve massive problems, humanity will see development, which might yet be difficult to comprehend.
Targets of use and effects are foreseen for example to agriculture and food production, and the aviation industry.
Quantum machine learning (QML) is based on traditional computer-quantum computer hybrids.
QML is applied for example in different optimizing and measuring tasks.
10. Multifaceted utilization of technology
Many have brought up in discussions that overhyping should be avoided, and to recognize that even traditional technologies still have their place and will develop further.
For example, in space exploration, quantum technology can be useful in some applications, but a large bulk of the modeling work will be done by CPU and GPU computing.
Also, alternative means for quantum and digital computers are being researched.
Every company strives to serve its customers in the best possible way. To succeed in that they need to use the most relevant and appropriate technology. Although current technologies will still prevail for a long time, quantum technologies can provide a significant competitive edge in some areas already soon. That is why getting acquainted with quantum technologies and understanding when and where to apply them should be a priority.
Recommendations for management and boards
Business cycles are long in many branches of industry. Investment cycles can be between 10 to 30 years, and even longer in energy industries. Investments of today will be challenged by quantum computers latest in the 2030s.
Recognize, that quantum technology will be relevant and a source of competitive advantage.
Improvements in the field should be followed in different ways and build one’s view for the future and analyze which developments are suitable specifically for us.
Understand, in which areas where you can have a competitive edge with a quantum computer, and plan for how quantum technology can be taken on the agenda of your business. The subject should be taken at least as a part of the annual clock of the board. An opening for gathering information about quantum technologies should be added to the strategy sessions of the management.
Prepare, bring forth fantastic problems, that could be solved with quantum technologies. If quantum technologies look like they’d have an effect or benefit potential for your business, get expertise, so you can start building a quantum path for your company.
Quantum technology in a nutshell:
Quantum mechanics = Basic theory of physics, which describes how laws of nature work. Includes a bunch of concepts, which feel a bit weird in the perceptible world.
Superposition = Objects in a quantum state act both as waves and solid particles simultaneously. Their state (for example energy) can’t be precisely defined, but it is a probability distribution (superposition) of all kinds of states. In a traditional computer, bits consist of ones and zeros, in a quantum computer they are simultaneously both, i.e. in a superposition of one and zero.
Entanglement = Objects in a quantum state are connected in such a manner, that no matter how far apart their states are, they’re still dependent on each other. Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”. He didn’t understand this, so don’t worry if you don’t either.
Teleportation = Transmitting information through entanglement between two quantum particles. Only information transfers, not the particles themselves (like in Star Trek, which is a shame…)
Quantum computer, i.e. a quantum machine = a computer, which utilizes the characteristics of quantum mechanics to make calculations that are impossible to make in a reasonable time with a traditional computer.
Qubit, i.e. a quantum bit = A qubit is a superposition of quantum states and can store much more information than a regular bit. Quantum computers are often compared by the number of qubits because it reflects how complex calculations the quantum computer can make.
Quantum encryption = Technology how to make information hidden using quantum mechanics and readable by only those who are permitted access. With quantum encryption, breaking into the information is impossible.
“A piece of advice for the chairmen of the boards, you need to allocate time in the annual clock, to keep up with new technologies and think, what is the situation from your perspective.
Quantum technology can bring about competition from other industries – new technologies make new customer behavior possible.
Without reflecting together, it is hard to find opportunities or pitfalls in current activities. You got to keep your eyes open, or else you might miss the train.”
– Leena Linnainmaa, DIF ry
“To what extent is quantum a disruptive technology, or is it not? It’s hard to understand at this point. When the field has advanced to a certain point, all modern information security loses its meaning. Can we prepare, do we even know enough about the subject to be able to prepare?
Governments, global tech-giants invest enormous amounts in quantum technology and related things, the field has been growing immensely for some time now. You have to be in the game to affect it. Now that we’re creating something new, let’s not make the mistake of approaching it from just one scientific field.
Bring in physicists, cryptographers, sociologists, law experts, corporate life, etc. around the table. A larger interdisciplinary group is important because the change is massive. Political decision-makers are also important, they must understand the opportunities, threats, and effects of quantum technology”
– Jarno Limnéll, Aalto-university
“The gap is between what we’d like and could do, and what we can do with modern computing resources for example in quantum mechanics. Even with modern supercomputers, we can’t model particularly complex systems on the atomic level, beginning from the principle laws of physics, not to mention protein and cell systems. Simulating cells on the molecular level is still far ahead, a gap of billions and billions in magnitude.
The problems of chemistry can’t be described without quantum mechanical methods when we want to research the reactions and structure of electrons. These issues could, in theory, be solved with a quantum computer”
– Julius Sipilä, Orion Pharma R&D
“You must follow the development of quantum technology to learn which areas might suddenly become active. For example, information security can be both a threat and an opportunity. Quantum technology brings with its opportunities like unbreakable internet or the threat of breaking all encryption – what would this mean? Or if we had the tools to design vastly better chemical processes than competitors?
It is crucial to understand where vulnerabilities lie. A quantum computer may seem too far off to pay attention to. But for example, the goal for carbon neutrality is in 2035, and in that period a quantum computer is not an impossibility.
Production technologies change, and then you must think, that if in 15 years, a quantum computer were in use, how would things be at that point. Decisions on energy systems need to consider the possibility of having quantum computers available, even though you must make the same decisions as usual.
If long term investments are being made to a giant chemistry factory, considerations about quantum must be seen in the risk analysis.”
– Antti Vasara, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
“Quantum technology is a disruptive force. The biggest challenge is breaking the encryption methods. Who gets the first quantum computer in use, can break encryption methods and all systems break? If I was in management or a company chairman, this would be so important to bring up. Modern computers can’t take on tasks as big and complex as a quantum computer can.
When the quantum age begins, many businesses will be left without a foundation. In my book “Teknoelämää 2035” from 2013, I pondered about this.
How will governments begin to use quantum computers? The Chinese are already sending quantum encrypted messages.
Quantum technology can make dictatorship possible, which is the ultimate dystopian scenario, which must be avoided. For example, North Korea has made enormous investments in information technology and hacking. The threat of cyberwar is growing, and the quantum computer is the atomic bomb.
Dangers are important in a way, but it is also important to understand what good technology can be used for. The quantum computer is a big leap forward. It’s a modern computer multiplied with a billion. With it, the effects of global warming can be modeled better, foresee the spread of a pandemic and utilize big data more efficiently.
Now forecasting AI algorithms are used to anticipate what for example a consumer will do next.
How much can we foresee big things, when we have quantum computers? Quantum technology is a massive opportunity.”
– Elina Hiltunen, Futurist
“The vision should be right at this point. We must realize that a global revolution is on its way and the ball is already rolling. Nobody has yet the dominant position in quantum technology, but if investments aren’t being made in the upcoming years, another facet may easily become the center of it.
Some facets may be on the top right now, but the game is far from over. A Finnish quantum computer is important. A quantum computer will be purchased for VTT, which should be supported. We must think further into the future and make decisions accordingly. How could we after testing and piloting, create quantum computing services? Creating an ecosystem is important, for businesses to begin using quantum services.”
– Mikko Möttönen, Aalto-university
“It is clear, that quantum computing could apply to weather and global warming forecasting and modeling. Special features of quantum computing can be utilized in computational solving of equations of laws of nature. To our understanding, that AI won’t create the next disruption in weather prediction per se, but quantum computers include that promise.”
– Juhani Damski, Finnish Meteorological Institute
“The deep understanding and managing of the effects of global warming need faster and more accurate climate system simulations, which could become possible through quantum computers. Then we have a better grasp of contingencies and the ability to go deeper into the physics, and better connecting them to other fields of science (for example social sciences)”
– Sami Niemelä, Finnish Meteorological Institute
“Governments and organizations should bring up these new things, and create databanks. What sort of education is needed? Let’s enlighten the educators close to the operatives, key organizations and people”
– Anne Brunila, KTT, Member of KONE board of directors
“Quantum is still new and unknown. The European quantum bill was ignored by 10 ministries, the response was: “doesn’t concern us”. Quantum technology is way too new and strange, so it’s disregarded. However, consciousness and understanding are important right now.
It is important to understand what could be achieved with such technology. There is a great concern about falling behind other continents.
Finland is usually too low key in EU funding projects. Horizon funding and Digital Europe consists of 80 billion Euros over 7 years. Finnish universities and engineering are both cutting edge, so it is important to gravitate towards the European research field. For some reason, it is hard to get Finns as a part of European collaboration. Finland is bigger it’s size when it comes to information security, and from that perspective, we have a good foundation for reacting positively towards the development of quantum.”
– Laura Vilkkonen, LVM
“Technology is no longer a limiting factor. Traditional technology is easy, it’s the processes that usually make it complicated, self-made complexities. Formulating the problems fed to the quantum computer into algorithms is hard. When someone brings a quantum computer to the market, it’s already too late to formulate your problems for the quantum age.”
– Jaakko Hyvärinen, Accenture Oy
“At Accenture, we have recognized over 200 use cases by industry, where there will be considerable benefits. Use cases can be found in all industries. Optimizing portfolios in finance, simulations, and process optimizations in energy, optimizing logistics in retail, weather forecasting, cryptography, etc. are all targets of application for quantum technology.”
– Jaakko Hyvärinen, Accenture Oy