Petr Vojtisek (Research Analyst, Customer Insights & Analysis)
Stefano Perini (Senior Research Analyst, Customer Insights & Analysis)

If you’ve been following the latest technological advancements, you might have heard about quantum computing. As with every technology in its infancy, there are usually two extreme points of view. The optimists believe in almost instant revolution, with no hurdles. The pessimists will see hurdles everywhere, without really wanting to understand the potential of technology. At the end of this blog, you should be able to judge for yourself — and see that the reality is probably somewhere in between.

What Is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing is the fifth phase of the computing era. Every era has been characterized by the system used to represent the basic piece of information — the bit. These systems have evolved from the use of vacuum tubes back in the 1950s, all the way to the current microprocessors. Four previous generations have processed the bit in a traditional way, where one bit can form only two states — 1 or 0. The quantum bit, however, also known as a qubit, uses the properties of quantum physics, where one bit can be both 1 and 0 at the same time (so-called superposition). Therefore, with only two qubits, quantum computers can represent 2² states, three qubits 23, all the way to n qubits 2n. For instance, the quantum-based Sycamore processor by Google, which famously claimed quantum supremacy, has 53 qubits. That’s over 9 quadrillion possible states. Let the magnitude of that sink in for a while. Such systems represent an exponential growth in computing power, completely changing the computing paradigm and offering the potential to solve problems that current supercomputers can’t. The possibilities are enormous, as highlighted in a recent IDC webcast: Quantum Computing in Europe: Is the Revolution Coming?.

Challenges

So, why don’t we already have quantum laptops? To achieve and keep the quantum properties, namely superposition and entanglement (for two particles communicating across huge distances —”Spooky action at a distance,” as coined by Albert Einstein), the quantum system needs very specific conditions to protect the qubits from external disturbances. Any such disruption could lead to the loss of quantum properties, also known as de-coherence, and consequently to loss of information. This requires very advanced physical systems with specific conditions, keeping the temperature just above absolute zero and completely isolating the underlying qubits from the external world. Additional to the external environment, de-coherence might also be caused by the inner workings of a quantum computer, and again lead to loss of information. All these specific properties make it difficult and resource intensive to build such systems.

Technology Approach

As with every new technology, the market is flexible and responds to the challenges in some highly adaptive ways. There are a number of players in the quantum computing market (see IDC Market Glance: Quantum Computing). Those that have built a full-scale quantum system (such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft) are coming up with different technical solutions, for the system itself and for the lower level qubit representation. The circuit-based model holds the most promise so far, analogous to the logic gate systems from the classical computers. One of the circuit gate models’ specific implementations is the topological quantum computer, where Microsoft is putting its bets. It uses the topological properties — the bending ability of objects while maintaining the same shape — to keep the quantum information intact and reduce the error rate. Various other models and qubit implementations are evolving, though it is not yet known which will win out.

Simulators and Cloud

Other companies (Atos, Fujitsu) are focusing on building quantum-related simulators — technologies that emulate only some specific behavior of quantum computers. Though they’re not full-scale quantum systems, they can still be used for some specific purposes, including the random number generators in finance and other computationally less complex problems.

As with other resource-extensive emerging technologies such as AI, we’re also seeing the emergence of cloud services when the end user accesses the quantum systems through the classical computer. For example, IBM offers its IBM Quantum experience — a cloud platform for programming and experimenting with real quantum hardware or the simulators. During the COVID-19 pandemic, D-Wave has offered access via cloud to anyone working on the response to the virus — be it pharmaceutical specialists or mathematicians modeling the spread of the disease.

Ecosystem and Partnerships

This leads us to the most important piece of the market response puzzle — partnerships among stakeholders. As is often the case for emerging technologies, we have seen some partnerships among vendors and universities and research centers. Vendors gain through increased R&D capacity (infrastructure and people/skills), while the universities benefit from access to the quantum systems and software. Access to these frameworks is often open source and engenders community feeling around the quantum technologies. This is underlined by the partnerships with the academic sector, with start-ups, corporations, and even end users already experimenting with quantum computers to see if they can harness their power to tackle real business problems, as highlighted in IDC’s recent Worldwide Quantum Computing Use Cases Report. Overall efforts are supported by growing institutional investments, not only from national governments but also from international institutions (including the EU’s quantum flagship program).

So, Is Quantum Computing a (r)Evolution or Hype?

Maybe the right question for the quantum computing market should be: Is it revolution or evolution? We believe it is currently at the superposition of both, and only time will tell which way the quantum (r)evolution function goes. While there are currently not many real business use cases where the use of quantum computers would be more efficient than the current ones, the possibilities are growing. We see growth in both the technical and business sides. In October 2019, Google announced Quantum Supremacy — a quantum computer’s ability to solve well-defined problems exponential times faster than the current most powerful supercomputer. Even though there has been some criticism — that the problem is very specific and not useful in real life, and IBM has argued that its supercomputer could solve the problem in a couple of days — this still has major implications. More people are becoming aware of quantum computing and businesses will be able to test its real potential. As IDC recently highlighted in our European Quantum Computing End-User Sentiment: In Search of Business Impact, 7% of European companies already do some quantum computing experimentation.

So, what are our main recommendations for keeping track of the quantum market?

  1. Keep in touch with technology developments:

The market is changing fast, so don’t get stuck with an outdated approach.

  1. Partner up:

Share the knowledge, resources, and expertise.

  1. Start identifying use cases across industries:

It’s important to know the end user and identify the specific use cases suitable for quantum computers.

  1. Start to plan the development of quantum computing skills:

Find the right balance between the technical experts (developers) and the business-oriented professionals (consultants).

For more information, please contact Stefano Perini or Petr Vojtisek, or drop your details into the form on the top right.

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