Implications of the Quantum Revolution
1 December 2017 |
Maryana Kartashevska | About a 4 minute read
Having examined the theory and technology of quantum computers in the earlier blogs, I’d like to take a sneak peek at how quantum machines could revolutionise our world, from drastically improving our standards of living to making science fiction a reality.
Medicine and materials science
Research into new drugs relies heavily on the ability of scientists to discover new molecules, synthesise and test them. There are trillions of molecules and countless possible combinations, which is why drug development is such a lengthy, expensive and labour-intensive process. The sequential processing nature of modern machines and inability to handle complex simulations means that approximation is often the best solution available.
A quantum computer isn’t subject to the same scaling constraints because it is able to analyse multiple possibilities simultaneously, significantly reducing the time and effort required to find an optimal molecular structure (see Cat, Bits and Quantum Mechanics for the background). A quantum computer is also able to model complex chemical reactions without the need to create actual physical environments for testing. The result is access to superior drug-based treatments, individualised therapy and higher success rates.
But the implications of working quantum computers extend far beyond medicine, covering the entire spectrum of materials science, with an abundance of everyday benefits such as cleaner air and water, super-efficient renewable energy, improved agricultural products, to name just a few.
Financial services and cryptography
With an increasing number of financial transactions occurring online, quantum computers also have a huge application in the field of financial services and more specifically cryptography, which can be anything from transaction security to digital currency such as bitcoin.
Financial cryptography is an area where quantum technology will have a particularly profound impact, so much so that it is often perceived as a double-edged sword. This is because much of the modern encryption infrastructure is built on the complexity of integer factorisation, like the RSA algorithm. The RSA is a widely-used public key cryptosystem which exploits the difficulty of factoring the product of two very large prime numbers to keep your credit card data secure.
Whilst factoring a small number into its prime components is not hard, we are unable to factor very large numbers, even with the help of the most powerful classical computers. For example, the longest RSA number cracked to date is RSA-768, which is 232 digits long and took two years to solve. With a quantum computer, decryption of this scale would take a matter of minutes, making your credit card details very hackable, very quickly (see Detangling Quantum Entanglement for the theoretical background).
But it’s not all doom as leaps in quantum technology would open up doors to new, more robust forms of encryption – quantum encryption. If we think back to the concept of quantum superposition and the no-cloning theorem explored in Getting Physical: Bits and Quantum Error Correction, the very act of observation, or in this case an attempt at hacking, would render the quantum state to collapse, which means an unintended recipient can never spy quantum encoded data. At least in theory.
Aside from transaction security, quantum technology has many benefits for the financial services industry as a whole, whether it is large-scale data analysis, investment optimisation or risk management, all contributing to the stability of the financial markets.
Technology and artificial intelligence
Quantum computers are immensely useful for developing other forms of technology. For example, Google is using a quantum computer to design the software of its driverless cars. Volkswagen has used quantum technology to develop an algorithm that optimises the traffic flow in Beijing and reduces congestion.
Artificial intelligence is also a great candidate for quantum technology because many AI algorithms rely on complex operations like crunching big data, optimisation and efficient sampling – difficult for conventional machines but easy for quantum computers. Once the impediments of data processing are removed, machine learning becomes a lot more powerful and AI no longer the stuff of science fiction.
Quantum computers are coming. D-Wave Systems have recently made its quantum machine commercially available and tech giants Google, Intel, Microsoft and IBM are working to make quantum technology mainstream. We are on a brink of a quantum revolution though what this will mean for the world we can but speculate.Read More From This Author
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