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Whither quantum computing in a rapidly digitising Australia?

07 Jul 2020

Article by HCL Technologies IT Services vice president and chief technology officer Kalyan Kumar.

While widespread digitisation continues to transform the way Australians live, work and play, the real revolution is occurring in the background, in the quantum computing sphere.

The inexorable rise of the smartphone over the past decade saw ‘there’s an app for that’ become one of the enduring catch phrases of the 2010s. Tech-hungry Australians have embraced digital technology with gusto; incorporating devices and apps into multiple aspects of their professional and personal lives. 

It’s been exciting and transformative but these mobile technologies just scratch the surface of what computing can make possible. In institutions, laboratories and industry facilities, in Australia and around the world, quantum computing research is unleashing utterly extraordinary processing power that will solve the intractable scientific conundrums of yesteryear and drive social and economic transformation in the decades to come.

Quantum computing: a primer

Unlike the classic – albeit ever more powerful – conventional computer in ubiquitous use across the globe today, quantum computing performs calculations based on the behaviour of particles at the sub-atomic level. Instead of the ‘bits’ employed by conventional computers, quantum computers use quantum bits, or ‘qubits’.

They’re able to store vast quantities of data and compute problems millions of times faster than conventional computers. The applications for business and industry are almost boundless – from more accurate weather modelling and forecasting to the faster and more economical development and testing of new drugs.

Some of the world’s biggest ICT players are making forays that demonstrate the truly awesome processing power of the technology. In late 2019, Google announced its quantum computer, Sycamore, had solved, in a mere 200 seconds, a calculation it would take the world’s most powerful super-computers at least 10,000 years to complete.

The outlook for businesses

So how will quantum computing technology affect operations in your business or organisation? Use cases are emerging across a range of industries. In the transport sector, quantum computing is contributing to the development of self-driving technologies, while in the logistics sphere, it has the potential to deliver enhanced efficiencies up and down the most complex of supply chains.

For many other industries and enterprises, it may be still too early to tell.

Across the board, however, it does seem reasonable to assume that companies which have sound value chains and management systems in place will be better positioned to exploit the insights which emerge. Conversely organisations where data is siloed, rather than shared, may be slower to turn information into opportunity.

Bye bye classical computing?

The question of whether conventional computing’s days are numbered, its dominance poised to be toppled by next generation technology, is also a reasonable one, given the vast disparity in processing power and output between the old and the new.

But, to paraphrase the great American writer Mark Twain, early reports of classical computing’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  

What appears more likely is the co-existence of the two technologies in a hybrid model – basic processing and computing tasks still the remit of the conventional computer, and exponential tasks undertaken by quantum qubit machines.

It’s an exciting time, not just for businesses and organisations but for the human race. We’re on the cusp of widespread adoption of technology which may solve some of life’s greatest mysteries – and business challenges which are currently bedevilling some of the world’s brightest minds. 

Being alive to the possibilities and poised to exploit quantum technology and the insights it delivers is an imperative for enterprises and organisations that hope to join the revolution.