Quantum computing: technological holy grail or dystopian nightmare?


Our daily overdose of news shows us the myriad inventions that have the potential to revolutionize industries. One such invention that is subtly appearing, yet gaining fast popularity is the possibility of quantum computers. What is this technology and what is its potential?

As you may know, a classical computer uses binary bits to perform calculations. They are the smallest unit of information in a classical computer and can hold one of two forms: 0 or 1. A quantum bit (abbreviated as qubit) exploits one of the quirks of quantum mechanics, allowing it to be in a state of both 1 and 0 at the same time. This allows multiple simultaneous calculations, which is in complete contrast to current computers. As you can imagine, this means that a fully functioning quantum computer would increase the number of potential calculations by an almost unimaginable amount. There are still many issues which stop quantum computers from appearing in the next 5 years (such as coherence limits, phase errors just to name a few), however researchers are confident that the golden age of quantum computing will arise within the next 10-30 years.

So what does this mean for business?

Big Data and Quantum Computing

The possibilities that quantum computing present are endless. One field that would be impacted by quantum computing and bring huge contributions to the business domain is big data.

Big data is an advancing field, but it is meeting some limitations which have slowed down its rise to glory. Such limitations include:

  • integrating sets that have completely different structures
  • moving large amounts of data efficiently through a highly distributed network

Moore’s law is still in effect but for how long? Already since 2005 has this law still existed only due to changes in processor architecture, since it is not humanly possible to make transistors much smaller than they currently are. At this point, the quantum computer seems to be the only solution on the horizon. As explained above, the significant increase in computational volume would almost instantly solve current problems in the big data domain.

This is just one potential use of quantum computers. There are many more (for example drug discovery and design for pharmaceutical industries). However, can only good come out of quantum computing?

The Quantum Arms Race

Quantum computing could potentially be very dangerous as well. One form of danger it poses is its potential to crack many of today’s used forms of encryption. Should such powerful computers fall into the hands of the wrong people, companies’ records, users’ bank accounts and many more forms of private information could become publicly available. Events such as the Ashley Madison hack could become commonplace.

Even if this prediction is on an extreme level and might not happen, quantum computing will be an incredibly disruptive innovation in an industry that has only benefited from incremental innovations since the Web 2.0. Consider how expensive it would be for a company to replace most of their systems with quantum ones. Would all companies be able to afford such technologies? It is highly unlikely, and yet the corporate giants will upgrade and gain a considerable advantage against startups, potentially stifling innovation.

There is no way to tell if quantum computer evolution will follow the same growth path as classical computers did. Hopefully commercialization will happen faster. At this point in time, all we can do is speculate.

What do you think?

References

http://www.wired.com/2015/09/tricky-encryption-stump-quantum-computers/

http://www.fastcompany.com/3045708/big-tiny-problems-for-quantum-computing

http://www.wired.com/2013/10/computers-big-data/

http://fortune.com/2015/08/26/ashley-madison-hack/

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