Quantum computers will lead to vast improvements in drug discovery, weather forecasting and supply chain optimisation.
Weather forecasting today is good. Can it get better? Sure, it can, if computers can be better. This is where quantum computers come into the picture. They possess computing capacity beyond anything that today’s classical computers can ever achieve. This is because quantum computers can run calculations exponentially faster than today’s conventional binary computers. That makes them powerful enough to bridge gaps which exist in today’s weather forecasting, drug discovery, financial modelling and many other complex areas.
Classical computing has been the backbone of modern society. It gave us satellite TV, the internet and digital commerce. It put robots on Mars and smartphones in our pockets.
“But many of the world’s biggest mysteries and potentially greatest opportunities remain beyond the grasp of classical computers,” says Stefan Filipp, quantum scientist at IBM Research. “To continue the pace of progress, we need to augment the classical approach with a new platform, one that follows its own set of rules. That is quantum computing.”
Classical computing is based on the binary system, where the fundamental carriers of information — bits — can take on a value of either 0 or 1.
All information is stored and read as a sequence of 0s and 1s. A state of 0 is off (or false) and a state of 1 is on (or true). Unlike bits, quantum bits or qubits can have multiple values or states between 0 and 1, enabling them to store different types of information.
Superposition and entanglement are two fundamental properties of quantum objects. The ability to manipulate these properties is what makes quantum algorithms fundamentally different from classical algorithms.
Quantum computers working with classical systems have the potential to solve complex real-world problems such as simulating chemistry, modelling financial risk and optimising supply chains.
For example, Exxon Mobil plans to use quantum computing to better understand catalytic and molecular interactions that are too difficult to calculate with classical computers. Potential applications include more predictive environmental models and highly accurate quantum chemistry calculations to enable the discovery of new materials for more efficient carbon capture.
JP Morgan Chase is focusing on use cases for quantum computing in the financial industry, including trading strategies, portfolio optimisation, asset pricing and risk analysis.
In India, the government has launched two initiatives in the emerging field — a networked programme on Quantum Information Science and Technology (QuST) and the National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NMQTA).
Despite all the progress, practical and working quantum systems might take most of the 2020s. And you won’t see or need a quantum machine on your desk. These will be used by governments and large enterprises, unless you want to find aliens or figure out and execute ways to boil the ocean while sitting at home.