Quantum computing’s strength lies in solving problems that have thus far proven intractable
One such class of problems is simulating complex biological systems at the atomic or molecular level. Quantum chemistry could prove particularly useful in the fields of drug discovery, materials science and the formulation of new chemicals.
1. The pharma, life sciences and chemicals opportunity
Pharmaceutical companies are already exploring quantum computing’s ability to build more precise models of complex molecules and effectively simulate their interactions. While it is still early days, quantum computing could eventually accelerate drug development and even lead to the discovery of better drugs with fewer side effects for previously untreatable diseases. Looking beyond drug discovery, the field of synthetic biology promises an entirely new approach to designing cures using the ability to read and write genomes. To achieve this vision, synthetic biology will require quantum computing to model complex cell structures that can effectively fight diseases such as cancer.
Similarly, companies in materials and chemicals manufacturing, automotive and aerospace sectors are experimenting with quantum simulation to discover better compounds for more efficient batteries to power electric vehicles, fuel efficient aircraft materials, better solar panels, as well as new chemical catalysts for fertilizers that would reduce carbon emissions and improve crop yields.
2. The optimization opportunity: financial services, transport and city planning
Apart from simulation, quantum computing could solve complex optimization problems that require processing a vast number of potential solutions extremely quickly. The financial services industry is already using quantum computing to explore risk optimization across large financial portfolios. Meanwhile, the transportation sector is looking at quantum computing to make traffic management and public transport systems more efficient.
For instance, Volkswagen developed a quantum algorithm to predict urban traffic volume, allowing public transportation organizations and taxi companies to optimally deploy their fleets to meet demand. With autonomous vehicles, ships, drones and even delivery robots set to invade roads, pavements, waterways and airways around the world, quantum computing could play a critical role in optimizing routes to ease congestion and improve efficiency.
3. The data security opportunity
In the field of information and communication security, quantum has proven theoretically capable of breaking today’s strongest encryption protocols. While this has been cause for alarm, especially with governments, it also provides new methods for future quantum-resilient encryption and secure communication that could see the advent of a quantum internet.
4. The sensing and mapping opportunity
Another near-term application is the development of quantum sensors. For instance, quantum gravity sensors or gravimeters would allow construction engineers and surveyors to map underground structures before executing large construction projects. Quantum sensors could also be used to monitor volcanoes, improve the detection of diseases and even allow cars to see around corners.
More recently, efforts are underway at companies and startups to understand the intersection of quantum computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). In theory, quantum computing’s data storage and processing capabilities could exponentially speed up the training of machine learning algorithms. And in the process, result in faster and more accurate AI systems across a wide variety of applications. However, “the application of quantum computing to machine learning is still not concrete, it is more abstract compared to the application of quantum computing to simulation,” says Alireza Shabani, CEO and Founder of Qulab.
It is easy to understand the fascination with and investment in quantum computing given the potential to generate significant societal benefits. However, it is likely that this is just the tip of the iceberg. “As history has taught us, oftentimes as a technology emerges, the applications end up surprising us,” says Arrazola. Perhaps we will only be able to unlock the full pantheon of applications, opportunities and business value when a practical and use-able quantum computer is realized.