At last month’s virtual Showcase, we were delighted to welcome an international expert, Dr Mark Wolf, from Quantinuum, the world's largest fully integrated quantum computing company, who provided an introduction to quantum computing and how this discipline is developing across industries.
It has recently evolved from a highly-specialised niche shrouded in esoteric jargon to a near mainstream field, offering the tantalising prospect of computing power capable of solving complicated problems that would otherwise take us a significant amount of time to solve. Those businesses with complex issues at their heart – think logistics, health and social care and even management consulting – stand to benefit from early identification and development of applications.
So at CMCE we asked ourselves how we as consultants can filter the real opportunities from the technical wizardry whilst cutting through the hype?
According to Lord Mayor Vincent Keaveny, “There are three types of people in the Quantum Computing world: those who understand it, those who don’t understand it, and those who do and don’t understand it”. The mayor wasn’t speaking at CMCE’s October Showcase on the subject – it was at a subsequent event that I attended – but his in-joke encapsulated one of the fundamental and slightly mind-bending concepts introduced by our speaker, Quantinuum’s Dr Mark Wolf. Rather than the bits that underpin “classical” computers and exist as zeroes or ones, quantum bits – qubits – harness the properties of sub-atomic particles which exist in multiple states. These qubits can become “entangled” to perform calculations that can find solutions that would take traditional computers years to solve.
Once over this conceptual hurdle which, even though I studied quantum mechanics briefly at university and still remain fascinated by it, I find easier to just accept rather than ponder too deeply, Mark dealt with the many applications that quantum machines can address, including chemical simulation, optimisation of supply chains and transport schedules, drug design and derivative pricing.
However, the key question that consultants and their clients alike have front of mind is “should I start doing something about quantum?” and the answer that I think is most appropriate is yes, no and yes/no…
More seriously, at CMCE we think that it certainly is something that should be actively considered, since the technology is moving from the lab to commercial adoption. Quantinuum is a joint venture between Honeywell and Cambridge Quantum and is already offering products that support cryptography and chemical simulation. Other commercial services are being developed by a range of quantum suppliers and, whilst individual quantum machines generally require highly-specialised environments, their capabilities will soon be available in much the same way as other cloud-based services.
In conclusion, the challenge for companies is to start to build quantum-related skills and knowledge as well as, critically, to identify those previously insoluble problems that would give them competitive advantage. Conceptually, quantum computing may be a challenge for us, but it’s one that we need to rise to, in order to embrace the opportunities that it will bring very soon.
Nick Bush, Director, CMCE