What if your car’s navigation system could simultaneously calculate all of the possible routes from New York City, to Washington, D.C., and account for weather conditions, current and future traffic conditions, road construction, and even traffic signals, providing you with the optimal route in real time? How about an algorithm that would automatically mine through possible compounds to find the most stable one on which to develop a new, life-saving drug? Or how about a wedding planning application that would let a bride easily configure and reconfigure a seating arrangement using specific criteria relating to a guest, his or her seat position, and adjacent guests?
These are all real-world optimization problems that are very well suited to a new computing paradigm known as quantum computing. In contrast to today’s classical, transistor-based machines, quantum machines utilize quantum bits (qubits), which are subatomic particles, such as electrons and photons, to represent data. Unlike traditional data bits, qubits can exist in multiple states, which is known as superposition. This means that instead of a qubit only representing a binary state of either zero or one, a qubit can be zero and one at the same time, which enables multiple calculations to be carried out at once.
The Advantages of Quantum Computing
Therefore, a quantum system is able to look at every potential solution to a problem simultaneously and not just the single “best” solution, but it can also return thousands of close alternatives as well, all within a second. This presents significant advantages over a traditional computer, which must sequentially explore the potential solutions to a mathematical problem, taking significantly more time.
As an example, consider two people sitting in a library. The first person represents a classical computer, and would need to read each book in the library sequentially. Representing the quantum computer, the second person would be able to read and process every book in the library simultaneously, instead of having to read through each book one at a time. In the examples above, a quantum computer will eventually be able to calculate all possible solutions to a problem simultaneously, providing a significant advantage in both compute power and speed, compared with traditional computers.
The Challenging Waiting Period
But quantum computing systems are not quite ready for prime time—yet. Despite continuing work to develop a quantum computer that can not only solve problems that a classical machine cannot—a benchmark known as quantum supremacy—it will be years before a quantum machine will be powerful enough to address the really challenging, hard questions like the examples at the top of this post.
Still, that is not to say the segment is not generating both interest and revenue. For example, technology firms are actively developing both the hardware and software needed to harness the power of quantum computing. D-Wave currently offers a 2,000 qubit, quantum annealing machine, which can be used to address basic optimization problems. Google has announced Bristlecone, a 72-qubit quantum machine, along with its Cirq framework, which allows programmers to run quantum circuits and test algorithms.
Quantum computing veteran IBM has public-facing, 20- and 16-qubit devices, which programmers can play with and research using the IBM Q Experience, and is working on a 50-qubit device. And startup Rigetti has a 19-qubit device accessible through its Forest programming environment.
But, there are significant hurdles that will need to be overcome before quantum computers are ready to solve real-world challenges. Quantum computers are still susceptible to noise, or interference, which generates errors. The time that qubits are actually able to leverage their quantum properties and conduct calculations, known as coherence, is quite short, thereby limiting the complexity of the problems that can be solved. And quantum machines require very specific environmental conditions (generally requiring qubits to be held in temperatures that are just above absolute zero), thereby making it quite difficult to simply build and operate a quantum machine anywhere other than a laboratory environment.
Tractica and Others Share Their Insights
However, Tractica sees this market as having great potential in the near term, largely as a result of enterprise organizations seeing the possibilities of quantum computing now, and taking specific steps to prepare for a quantum future. In our recent report, Quantum Computing for Enterprise Markets, several industry sectors appear poised to generate quantum computing revenue over the next 8 years, including life sciences ($718.3 million); aerospace ($647.9 million); oil, gas, and mining ($627.3 million); agriculture ($617.6 million); and automotive ($616.5 million), with the total quantum computing market forecast to reach $2.3 billion annually by 2025.
I will be discussing key highlights from the report at the upcoming Quantum Computing Summit, which will take place September 19, 2018 at the AI Summit in San Francisco. Ranging from the current technological advances that have made quantum computing possible to market factors that will both drive and constrain market activity, my presentation will provide specific forecast data on the industry groups that are active in the space, as well as discuss the types of products and services that are likely to drive the market through 2025.
Representatives from academia (e.g., California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Waterloo), AI technology vendors (e.g., D-Wave Systems, Strangeworks, and Rigetti), and enterprises (e.g., Lockheed Martin and Volkswagen), and many others will be present to share their insights on how the quantum computing market will evolve over the next several years, and to discuss preparation steps for integrating quantum computing, cybersecurity issues, and new potential use cases for the technology. I hope you will join me at the Quantum Computing Summit and continue the conversation about the wide range of potential enterprise applications for quantum computing.