Voices from Accenture Public Service

Quantum computing is almost here – and it comes with challenges and opportunities. This was underscored at a recent workshop that I facilitated with the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) in Singapore, where we discussed with participants from various public sector agencies the impact and possible applications of this new technology that is poised to transform computing and communications.   

Quantum computing is based on the quantum physics of fundamental particles like photons (light). Quantum physics is very non-intuitive – our experience of the world shapes how we interpret and think about reality – yet even though everything has a quantum foundation, the way quantum physics works is completely bizarre to us. In our quantum world, particles can exist in two places at the same time and have two states (like an arrow) pointing in multiple directions at the same time.  

Quantum communications is almost ready for prime time – at this point It is best applied to your most secure and sensitive communications between sites. It will soon be embedded into our communication networks and be part of the fabric of how we communicate in the future. Quantum communications promises to provide provably secure messaging between sites – something that is essentially impossible to eavesdrop. 

Quantum also brings challenges – much of our security infrastructure is based on public key cryptography – and there is already a quantum algorithm that can break the most widely used forms of public key cryptography. It may be several years before quantum computers are large enough to make this threat a reality, but it is coming, and security researchers are already looking at alternative algorithms for public key that are less susceptible to quantum attacks.  

The true power of Quantum lies in solving certain classes of problems more quickly, and current research has found a small number of quantum algorithms such as: 

  1. Optimization problems – for example this can apply to routing traffic or allocating warehouse space. The opportunity to apply a real-time algorithm to dynamically optimize every instant is very powerful – our current approaches tend to optimize for some historical profile that is predicted to continue.   
  2. Machine learning – a quantum approach to machine learning is an extension of the optimization problem – finding ways to speed up the extraction of machine learning features from vast amounts of data.  
  3. Search problems – there is a known quantum algorithm that is quadratically faster than traditional searches – yet it will take some time for the scale and speed of the quantum computers to overtake traditional search.  

The potential of quantum computing to solve problems is only just emerging – but it is clear that as the technology evolves there will be more work and research into new algorithms. We are at the stage of the early 70’s of traditional computing – starting to create quantum devices with 10’s of qubits and in a more commercial manner. For now, and the near future traditional computing can still outperform quantum – it has far more gates (millions) and it runs at faster speeds (GHz rather than MHz).  

Ultimately, I see quantum devices working like a graphics processing units (GPUs) – our computers have a GPU to help with display rendering, but it is invisible to most people (who may not even know what a GPU is).  Similarly, our computers and processing of the future will blend quantum computing with traditional computing and use quantum devices to solve specific problems.  

Where do you see Quantum impacting your business and how are you preparing for it? Please share your thoughts below.

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