Count down to Q-day
At the moment, quantum computers are not outperforming classic computers with practical applications, but their day of reckoning could come sooner than we think.
Q-day is the term some experts use to describe a time when a robust quantum computer will be capable of cracking the large prime numbers that underlie our public encryption systems that protect our bank accounts, financial markets and our critical infrastructure.
Speaking at the Tech EU Summit in Brussels last month three quantum firms spoke about the much-anticipated spectacle, the current state of quantum computing and why enterprises shouldn’t’ stress about Q-day.
‘Chicken and egg’
Experts agree that one challenge the industry is likely to face in the run up to Q-day is a skills shortage. A recent McKinsey report found that, right now, only one qualified quantum candidate is available for every three quantum job openings, and by 2025 less than 50% of jobs in this sector will be filled unless significant interventions occur.
“The industry needs a lot of education and upskilling,” confirms Markus Pflitsch, co-founder and CEO of quantum-as-a-service firm, Terra Quantum.
Talent in this field is particularly necessary even though quantum computers aren’t up and running, according to Jan Goetz, co-founder and CEO of Finnish quantum computer firm IQM Quantum Computers.
“There is a bit of a chicken and egg problem,” Goetz admits. “Of course, we would like the see the market and industry trying out applications and use cases, but then the industry says, ‘but the machines are not working yet’.”
“So, it’s kind of who makes the next investment first?” He poises.
Product development is another issue for Pflitch’s Terra Quantum, as each computer needs to be made from scratch, both in hardware and software.
“That’s where the different layers are segmented,” says Pflitsch. “One focus is on software, one is on hardware,” and scaling the hardware without increased investment is one of the biggest challenges, he adds.
From a software point of view, Sabrina Maniscalo, co-founder and CEO of Finnish quantum algorithm firm Algorithmiq, says that they are now focusing on what they can do with existing and evolving quantum computers.
“One of the major challenges of quantum computers is the fact that they are sensitive to noise and to errors,” she explains. “They need to be protected from this imperfection, and this can be done at a software level.” Hence, Algorithmiq is focusing on using smart noise-resilient algorithms to try and fix from a software level.
While the challenges are heavy, the panel is optimistic that quantum computing will continue to grow rapidly.
“There is a very clear development path, so many companies have published road maps so you can see what the next steps are,” says Goetz. “So, I’m very confident that we will see a lot of improvement and we will pull in industry, and not just quantum experts,” he enthused.
“Quantum will affect everybody’s everyday lives,” states Maniscalco. “It is impossible to think of a field in our own society that will not be affected by the computing power, and the substantial changes.”
That is not to say that quantum computers will be able to outperform conventional computers in everything, though, admits Maniscalco. “This is not the case, but the quantum boost provided by quantum computers will affect basically almost every sector.”
The advanced computing power of quantum computing will improve the function of big data analytics, machine learning, and greatly enhance the creation of pharmaceuticals, too, says Pflitsch.
“Health will be massively affected. Drug discovery on a high-performance computer will be transformed into quantum simulations, and that will open up the door for a lot of great things,” he adds.
On the flip side, cyber security – and making sure that firms become ‘quantum safe’ will become a daunting issue, and “Q-day” could well happen if quantum computing is not tamed by equally advanced security measures.
“The security of your data is affected as well and that is probably the thing which you care most about,” says Pflitsch.
“Generally, there are secure algorithms,” expands Goetz. “So, you would just need to change the encryption code, but of course, this means the whole community has to agree on the new code.”
“What needs to be done, and what people are working on, is a change of the encryption systems,” states Goetz.
The US’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has already published a new set of recommendations of what the new security systems will look like, with a full set of standards set to follow next year.
And firms such as IBM are also launching initiatives to prepare enterprises for quantum safety.
The good news is that, once a firm becomes quantum secure, it could mean that you will never need to download an antivirus ever again, according to Pflitsch.
“Once quantum encrypted communication protocols are formed, we will never ever be hacked again as long as the law of physics in this universe don’t change,” he says.
“That means this is the final end game on cyber security, once you’ve upgraded to a quantum secure level, you are safe, and we can do that.”
Last month, HSBC unveiled its partnership with quantum computing firm Quantiniuum for a series of projects that explore the tech field in banking. Click here to read more.
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