March 9, 2017
The Economist Technology Quarterly Q2 is focused on Quantum Technology and its applications such as a global network of communications links whose security is underwritten by unbreakable physical laws, sensors that can spot hidden nuclear submarines, and computers and software that can discover new drugs, revolutionise securities trading and design new materials.
Referencing a 2015 study by McKinsey, the piece highlights that there are 7,000 people worldwide with combined budget of $1.5bn working on quantum-technology research, 100€m of which comes from Canada.
“It doesn’t help to have a quantum computer if no one knows how to program it.”
– Tim Polk, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Although academic efforts to build quantum-computer hardware have been going on for two decades, until recently, comparatively little has been done to develop the software needed to run the machines when they come. That is changing, because in the past few years it has become clear that these machines are getting closer. Two parallel efforts are under way. One is to create software as generally understood—the graphical interfaces, programming languages and so on, a kind of “Windows for quantum”. The other is to develop novel algorithms, step-by-step instructions that break down problems into discrete parts amenable to quantum computing.
Innovation abounds in both camps, and among big tech firms as well as plucky startups. Some big players are working on both sides of the problem, and a growing ecosystem of quantum-friendly consultancies advises companies on what quantum computing might do for them.
The article goes on to highlight the new role companies such as 1QBit are playing between the quantum experts and industry, examining whether and how a given firm’s business might be improved by quantum methods, for example optimising trading strategies or supply chains, or monitoring network activity to spot cyber-attacks.
“By taking the lens of how you would formulate an algorithm on a quantum computer you often find very good improvements on classical algorithms, that’s where a lot of our successes comes from.”
– Landon Downs, President of 1QBit