Quantum Computing

Excelian recently sent a team of developers to attend the Devoxx conference in London. Devoxx is a two day event “by developers for developers” that discusses the latest trends and technologies in the IT world. Along with seminars and programs from leading international developers, there were also optional hands-on workshops and labs for those seeking something more practical. The covered subjects were wide-ranging: DevOps lectures, Java, Big Data, AI and Machine Learning among many others. One such topic was on the concept Quantum Computing and we at Excelian thought it would make for an interesting article to discuss this potential IT game-changer….

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum Computing is a form of technology defined from the principle of quantum physics, whereby an object can be in two or more states at the same time. Whilst we are still miles away from quantum computing entering everyday life, its potential means it could change the way technology is used in major industries such as financial services, science and technology.

To take a look at enhancements quantum computing provides, it is best to look at how conventional computers operate. Today’s computers store all data in bits (short for binary digit). A bit is the smallest unit of data on a computer and is a single binary value, either a 0 or 1. The data can therefore only exist is a single state at any one time. Quantum computing, however, uses the concept of quantum bits (qubit). Qubits, like ordinary bits, can exist in a format of 0 or 1. Unlike everyday bits, they can also exist in a combination of the two or both, known as a “superposition”. This flexibility qubits provide would allow a quantum computer to perform calculations and run algorithms faster than conventional computers

The potential quantum computational power becomes greater through a process called entanglement. Entanglement is a phenomenon through which qubits can share information with each other. In conventional computing, data bits are ring fenced from one another to prevent data or calculation corruption. In quantum computing, the opposite applies; all qubits are entangled with each other. This further allows computers to race through calculations in parallel rather than sequentially as in their conventional counterparts.

Real World Uses

A technology of such power and magnitude could change the world from how we know it. Traditional financial calculations would run at a faster rate; risk and margin, hedging, Monte Carlo and back testing simulations, and market stress testing would all benefit from the increase in power.

Just as machine learning has been brought closer into focus with the advent of distributed parallel computing platforms, such as Spark and its associated big data techniques, so too will quantum computing bring previously-unfeasible calculations into common usage. In doing so, they could be able to do things that will disrupt the financial markets. For example, where a quadrupling of size in data today requires a quadrupling of computing power, the same increase would only require a marginal increase of quantum computing power.

Another clear benefit lies in fraud detection. Automated fraud detection relies on pattern recognition. Quantum computers can support highly effective pattern recognition algorithms, and are intrinsically able to work with complicated statistical problems.

As quantum computers are capable of doing normal tasks more efficiently and effectively, there can be a decrease in running cost. With the Internet of Things becoming commonplace in everyday life, the volumes of data used is exploding. It is estimated that around 4.4 trillion gigabytes are in use today and by the year 2020 this will increase to a staggering 44 trillion gigabytes. In an increasingly data-driven economy this ability to crunch through data is quickly realisable.

Disadvantages
We are still a long way away from seeing quantum computers used on an industrial scale. Current estimates predict around 10 years to develop something anywhere near resembling the theoretical computational power being discussed.

It will also take longer still to introduce them to people’s homes. When personal computers first were introduced into people’s home, they were incredibly large, expensive and clunky. A similar trajectory is predicted when personal quantum computers are introduced before further refinements make them accessible.

The physical requirements in developing a quantum system are numerous as it uses forms of superconductors, nanotechnology and quantum technology among many others. Currently the development costs are in the hundreds of millions of Pounds.


The Future
Despite the disadvantages, the potential of quantum computing concept continues to excite the world’s leading technological firms and institutes. D-Wave, a company with notable investors such as Goldman Sachs and Amazon CEO Jess Bezos, have already developed the world’s first commercial quantum computers and have sold it to the aerospace and security firm Lockheed Martin. There is an ongoing collaboration between Google and NASA on pioneering quantum computing in assisting with machine learning. IBM and Microsoft have their own internal departments as well and universities in the UK such as Sussex and South Wales have been given funds to advance research and development.

Whatever the future holds, companies are taking notice and actively researching their own technologies. While it may be years and even decades for quantum computing to come to the foreground, it has all the hallmarks of revolutionising computing as we know it.


Abdul Malik
IT consultant specialising in Windows technologies. Currently working as an on-site HPC Cloud computing and Automation expert, integrating technologies and languages such as Microsoft HPC Server, Azure Cloud, RedHat, Powershell and Python with DevOps methodologies.

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