New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made headlines recently when he explained quantum computing during a press event. Quantum computing, despite its sexiness, is not all that new, but in this post, we’ll explore certain recent developments IT and Project Management pros should be aware of.
Justin Trudeau is getting a reputation: not as a scion of government but as a knowledgeable scientist. The Washington Post nicely summed up the reaction to his unexpected explanation of quantum computing:
“A bit of genius,” rhapsodized New York magazine, while Gizmodo’s headline said, “Everyone Should Be Able to Explain Quantum Computing Like Justin Trudeau.” Even the Guardian’s science blog, while arguing that “we should raise our expectations,” called his explanation “quite a good one.”
Although the Post said that Trudeau’s explanation wasn’t quite right, the incident set off a flurry of commentary around the field known as quantum computing. Initiated by the work of Paul Benioff and Yuri Manin in 1980, Richard Feynman in 1982, and David Deutsch in 1985. quantum computing is an alternative to classical computing that leverages theories of quantum mechanics.
Unlike classical computing, which uses a zero or one and must be in one of these two states at any given moment, quantum can be in both a zero and a one state at the same time. This is known as a "superposition."
“Quantum computing uses these superpositions – as well as another concept called entanglement—to compute in an entirely different way,” said Jay Gambetta, manager of the Theory Quantum Information Group at IBM, in an interview for Baseline. “It uses qubits [Quantum bits] that can compute over multiple paths simultaneously. In a practical sense, a quantum computer would deliver answers at far greater speeds than today's digital computers, including supercomputers.”
In 2015, Baseline reported on an IBM announcement of two critical advances that could eventually lead to the development of a quantum computer. IBM had demonstrated an ability to detect and measure both kinds of quantum errors simultaneously, as well as demonstrate a new square quantum bit circuit design that could successfully scale to larger dimensions.
A few months later, a team of NASA and Google engineers broke the news that the D-Wave computer, running an optimization problem, came up with an answer 100 million times faster than a conventional computer with a single core processor. According to Computerworld:
“The black box sitting at the heart of NASA's Advanced Supercomputing facility in Silicon Valley isn't much to look at. The size of a garden shed, it's smaller than a conventional supercomputer, but inside something quite impressive is happening. The box is a D-Wave 2X quantum computer, one of the most advanced examples yet of a new type of computer based on quantum mechanics, which can theoretically be used to solve complex problems in seconds rather than years.”
Despite these developments, commercial applications of quantum computing are probably several years away. Nevertheless, the potential implications for information technology and project management and our future operational excellence are staggering. Among the possibilities:
Quantum computing specializes in optimization problems, which involve many possible ways to arrive at a desired outcome. Computerworld cites the example of a traveling salesman who has to find the most efficient route to visit a number of towns. As more towns are added, the number of possible routes increases, and soon there are too many for a conventional computer to handle in a reasonable amount of time. Sounds like some of your projects, doesn’t it? A quantum computer, on the other hand, could provide an opportunity to solve exponentially complex problems and plan for an almost infinite number of scenarios in a reasonable timeframe.
When Google initially talked about the technology, the company mentioned the creative benefits of quantum computing. For instance, rather than trying to find the lowest point in a terrain with hills and valleys by computing the height point by point, a quantum computer could simply tunnel through the ridges to see if the other side is lower. Humans might be creative, but using algorithms that are beyond our intellectual capacity, quantum computers might be even more so.
The amount of data that must be analyzed in order to make an intelligent, educated, and insightful decision is only increasing, and with those increases come the requirement of additional computing power. But quantum computers will require much less of this than conventional computers, meaning that from an IT perspective we can do more with fewer resources. Also, as quantum computers perform normal tasks more efficiently, we’ll see costs of everyday operations plummet.
When it comes to new technologies, security breaches are at the top of the list of IT and PM concerns. Quantum computing will provide new and innovative ways to address these concerns, including pattern recognition. Said Information-Age.com: “Even more sophisticated acts of fraud can be detected automatically by self-learning networks. In addition, quantum computing will be able to detect network activity that might be harmful to an organization, enabling early intervention.”
Are you looking forward to the Quantum Leap?