For decades, quantum computing has been viewed as a futuristic technology: it would change everything, if it ever moved from the fantastical to the practical. Even in recent years, despite billions of dollars in research investment and extensive media coverage, the field is sometimes dismissed by real-life decision makers as too arcane, a far-off, far-out pursuit for academics and theorists. As we enter the Quantum Decade—the decade when enterprises begin to see business value from quantum computing—that perspective is quickly becoming an anachronism.
- Priorities of a post-pandemic world. As entire industries face greater uncertainty, business models are becoming more sensitive to and dependent on new technologies. Quantum computing is poised to expand the scope and complexity of business problems we can solve.
- The future of computing. The integration of quantum computing, AI, and classical computing into hybrid multicloud workflows will drive the most significant computing revolution in 60 years. Quantum-powered workflows will radically reshape how enterprises work.
- The discovery-driven enterprise. Enterprises will evolve from analyzing data to discovering new ways to solve problems. When combined with hyper-automation and open integration, this will ultimately lead to new business models.
Because quantum computing is coming of age, and leaders who do not understand and adapt to the Quantum Decade could find themselves a step—or more accurately, years—behind. Over the next few years, we foresee a profound computing revolution that could significantly disrupt established business models and redefine entire industries.
Historically, crises have been the impetus for both new technologies and their widespread adoption. World War I ushered in factory processes that are still in place today. The Cold War accelerated the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a predecessor to the internet, in the late 1960s. And now COVID-19 has driven an increased need for agility, resiliency, and accelerated digital maturity. We anticipate quantum computing—in combination with existing advanced technologies—will dramatically impact how science and business evolve. By accelerating the discovery of solutions to big global challenges, quantum computing could unleash positive disruptions significantly more abrupt than technology waves of the past decades.
Understanding the exponential power of quantum computing
Classical computer bits can store information as either a 0 or 1. That the physical world maintains a fixed structure is in keeping with classical mechanics. But as scientists were able to explore subatomic matter, they began to see more probabilistic states: that matter took on many possible features in different conditions. The field of quantum physics emerged to explore and understand that phenomena.
The power of quantum computing rests on two cornerstones of quantum mechanics: interference and entanglement. The principle of interference allows a quantum computer to cancel unwanted solutions and enhance correct solutions. Entanglement means the combined state of the qubits contains more information than the qubits do independently. Together, these two principles have no classical analogy and modeling them on a classical computer would require exponential resources. For example, as the table below describes, representing the complexity of a 100-qubit quantum computer would require more classical bits than there are atoms on the planet Earth.
To the nth degree: The power of exponential
The building blocks of quantum computing are already emerging. Quantum computing systems are running on the cloud at an unprecedented scale, compilers and algorithms are rapidly advancing, communities of quantum-proficient talent are on the rise, and leading hardware and software providers are publishing technology roadmaps. The technology's applicability is no longer a theory but a reality to be understood, strategized about, and planned for. And good news: the steps you should take to prepare for future quantum adoption will begin to benefit your business now.
Quantum computing will not replace classical computing, it will extend and complement it. But even for the problems that quantum computers can solve better, we will still need classical computers. Because data input and output will continue to be classical, quantum computers and quantum programs will require a combination of classical and quantum processing.
The steps you should take to prepare for future quantum adoption will begin to benefit your business now.
It is precisely the advances in traditional classical computing, plus advances in AI, that are driving the most important revolution in computing since Moore’s Law almost 60 years ago. Quantum computing completes a trinity of technologies: the intersection of classical bits, qubits, and AI “neurons.” The synergies created by this triad—not quantum computing alone—are driving the future of computing.
The most exciting computing revolution in 60 years: Three major technologies converge
The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) has been deeply engaged in conducting more than a dozen industry- and practice-based studies on quantum computing. We’ve elevated that research here with new insights gleaned from interviews with more than 50 experts, including IBM quantum computing researchers as well as clients, partners, and academics. This report on the Quantum Decade provides executives with strategies to prepare for the upcoming business transformation from quantum computing. It identifies the most important factors, themes, and actions to take at this significant inflection point.
The path to Quantum Advantage
What makes this the Quantum Decade? What will the quantum-powered world look like? And what can and should farsighted leaders and organizations do now to educate and position themselves effectively? The key learnings revolve around three phases of organizational evolution.
Phase 1: Awareness
According to the IBV’s 2021 CEO study, 89% of the more than 3,000 chief executives surveyed did not cite quantum computing as a key technology for delivering business results over the next two to three years. For the short term, that’s understandable. But quantum computing with 1,000 qubits is projected to be available as early as 2023—just a few years away. Given the technology’s disruptive potential this decade, CEOs should start mobilizing resources to grasp early learnings and start the journey to quantum now. CEOs who ignore quantum’s potential are taking a substantial risk, as the consequences will be much greater than missing the AI opportunity a decade ago.
Phase 1 of the quantum computing playbook requires broad recognition that the landscape is changing. The primary shift is a computing paradigm that’s evolving from an age of analytics (looking back at established data and learning from it) to an age of discovery (looking forward and creating more accurate models for simulation, forecasting, and optimization). There’s real potential for uncovering solutions that were previously impossible.
Phase 2: Readiness
Enterprises cannot use quantum computing to solve big problems yet. But quantum computing has shattered timelines and exceeded expectations at every phase of development. It’s not too soon for organizational leaders to explore how the advent of this new technology could alter plans and expectations. Phase 2 involves investigating big questions: How could your business model be disrupted and reshaped? How could quantum computing supercharge your current AI and classical computing workflows? What is the quantum computing “killer app” for your industry? How can you deepen your organization’s quantum computing capabilities, either internally or through ecosystems? Now is the time to experiment and iterate with scenario planning. Find or nurture talent who is fluent in quantum computing and capable of educating internal stakeholders about the possibilities, and partner for “deep tech” quantum computing resources.
But just as important is another critical question: What does your organization need to establish now to apply quantum computing when it’s production-ready? Indeed, laying the foundation for quantum computing also means upping your classical computing game. Enhanced proficiencies in data, AI, and cloud are necessary to provide the required fertile ground for quantum computing. Accelerating your digital transformation in the context of quantum computing readiness will provide a pragmatic path forward while delivering significant benefits now. After all, quantum computing doesn’t vanquish classical computing. The trinity of quantum computing, classical computing, and AI form a progressive, iterative partnership in which they’re more powerful together than separately.
Phase 3: Advantage
Phase 3, Quantum Advantage, occurs when a computing task of interest to business or science can be performed more efficiently, more cost effectively, or with better quality using quantum computers. This is the point where quantum computers plus classical systems can do significantly better than classical systems alone. As hardware, software, and algorithmic advancements in quantum computing coalesce, enabling significant performance improvement over classical computing, new opportunities for advantage will emerge across industries. But prioritizing the right use cases—those that can truly transform an organization or an industry—is critical to attaining business value from quantum.
Getting to Quantum Advantage will not happen overnight. But while that advantage may progress over months and years, it can still trigger exponential achievements in usage and learning. From exploring the creation of new materials to personalized medical treatments to radical shifts in business models across the economy, change is coming. Organizations that enhance their classical computing capabilities and aggressively explore the potential for industry transformation will be best positioned to seize Quantum Advantage.
- Tackling the world’s problems. From discovering new drugs to managing financial risk to re-engineering supply chains, there is an urgency to accelerate solutions to increasingly complex societal, macroeconomic, and environmental problems on a global scale.
- The 1,000-qubit milestone. Quantum computing hardware is on a trajectory to scale from 127 qubits in 2021 to 1,000 qubits by 2023 to practical quantum computing, characterized by systems executing error-corrected circuits and widespread adoption, by 2030. Cloud-based open-source development environments will make using quantum computers “frictionless.”
- The hybrid multicloud future. Many quantum programs involve interactions between classical and quantum hardware. But these interactions introduce latencies, or delays, which must be reduced to optimize capacity. This makes hybrid multiclouds the most viable future for quantum computing.
- The power of ecosystems. Quantum computing ecosystems—with opportunities for collaborative innovation and open-source development—are fast becoming fertile grounds for training users to apply quantum computing to real problems.
Download the full report to learn how you can guide your organization to Quantum Advantage.
ContactVeena Pureswaran, Associate Partner and Global Research Leader for Quantum Computing, IBM Institute for Business Value
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Originally published 11 June 2021
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