Voices from Accenture Public Service

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Future Proof is a series of articles set in our future on the impact of innovative technologies.  

It’s been 10 years since we achieved Quantum Supremacy – where a quantum computer supports computations that no traditional machine can match. Quantum computing has continued to grow rapidly, with performance doubling every 18 months. 

Quantum computers still remain confined to the data center and mostly provided through cloud computing. We have yet to create a quantum chip that can work at room temperatures and be added to our personal devices. But we’re close. 

Many of us remember the security challenges created when the first Quantum Computer cracked public key cryptography. While we knew this threat was coming, it came faster than expected and caught us unprepared.  Too many of our older devices were not updated to quantum-safe cryptography, and the proliferation of IoT devices that were difficult to update made the challenge more complex. Addressing that required tough choices to protect ourselves and our infrastructure. 

We now accept Quantum-generated keys as the foundation of our digital security – with the distribution of keys to our devices being the biggest risk. Quantum key generation and distribution is a new business that’s grown out of the necessity of avoiding the now crackable public key cryptography methods. The risk remains that computational encryption algorithms may be cracked in the future.

While Quantum algorithms are being embedded into more and more systems, Quantum is still only applicable to domain problems such as searching, optimization, simulation and machine learning. But organizations that have adopted quantum are differentiating and beating the competition.

  • Postal organizations are using quantum optimization algorithms to solve the last-mile delivery challenge. Because they can offer cheaper and more environmentally efficient delivery within cities, they are taking over all delivery functions. Dynamic optimization means customers’ deliveries are convenient and there’s less traffic on the roads.
  • City planners are using quantum optimization for public and private transport.  In most cases citizens now find public and shared transport more effective than using their own car – reducing congestion, improving travel times and cutting pollution.
  • Welfare agencies are using quantum to provide optimized advice to citizens about how to improve their lives. This includes helping people through life transitions and life events. Quantum optimization can search through many scenarios and offer answers that best suit the individual and their family circumstances.  

The search for new algorithms is running fast. Finding ways to solve computationally complex problems with Quantum algorithms is a focus of intense research, with high demand for mathematicians who can construct new algorithms or adopt current algorithms for new applications. This represents both a risk and an opportunity. The risk is that a new algorithm could break computational encryption – potentially exposing information (in particular with blockchains). The opportunity? Finding new ways to differentiate services. 

Looking back, what should we have done 10 years ago? We should have worked to understand the opportunities created by quantum algorithms and been ready to take advantage when they became available. And we should have focused on security, moving away from public key cryptography and anticipating the infrastructure changes required to support new security algorithms.

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