April 2018: Examining Quantum Opportunities
Quantum computing is an exciting new computing paradigm that has the potential to solve
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Microsoft, www.microsoft.com, founder Bill Gates compares trying to understand quantum computing to trying to read hieroglyphics. If someone as savvy in the realms of physics and mathematics as Gates admits quantum is confusing, what hope is there for the rest of us? As foreign as the idea may seem, even within the tech industry, quantum computing is the way forward, as Moore’s law reaches its limit and questions remain that classic computers just can’t solve.
Ask those who are knee-deep in quantum-related research and development, and they’ll say quantum represents the next era of computing. Quantum computers have the potential to quickly and efficiently solve problems that would take conventional computers incalculable amounts of time to crack. While classical computers use bits of information that live in one state at a time (either 0 or 1), a quantum computer enables bits of information to be 0, 1, or both 0 and 1 at the same time. However, harnessing these quantum effects requires an extreme environment—just above absolute zero in temperature and the near elimination of magnetic fields that occur naturally on Earth.
Society is approaching a tipping point in quantum computing. Interest in the market is skyrocketing, leading to significant investments in quantum by the public and private spheres, and there’s a fast-growing ecosystem of companies focused on the space. Companies like D-Wave Systems, www.dwavesys.com, are banking on the fact that quantum computing will one day help society tackle issues such as urban traffic congestion.
Quantum may be in its early days, but it’s developing quickly, and the industry needs to be asking the right questions. How can society harness this massive computational power and put it to good use? What real-world problems can quantum computing solve, and what problems might it create?
Hidetoshi Nishimori, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, www.titech.ac.jp, believes quantum computing is becoming more necessary in today’s connected society. “First (there) is the increasing appetite for larger computational power in keeping pace with the rapid development of IoT (Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), and related technologies,” he says. “Second concerns sustainability—i.e., the extremely large power consumption of IT and IoT based on the conventional silicon technology. If even a fraction of hard computational tasks can be delegated to quantum devices, it would mean a major step toward better protection of the environment, because superconducting technologies are often used in quantum computing devices.”
These days, the Founding Father of LiFi, Harald Haas, has a happy home life with his wife and their four children, and watching LiFi finally take off, but it didn’t come easy. As chief scientific officer of PureLiFi, he recognized a problem and figured out the pieces to overcome it; still LiFi success didn’t happen overnight. Haas shares with Peggy Smedley how he is drawn to guide his students, explaining the importance of being a role model and motivating new talent to be innovators. Growing from the loss of his mother at an early age has helped him balance family and work, recognizing that life is precious, he relishes every minute he has with his family to make it as valuable as possible.
Helmut Katzgraber, a professor at Texas A&M University, www.tamu.edu, predicts that the first application of quantum computers will be quantum chemistry. Quantum computers used to advance research in chemistry and molecular modeling could, in turn, help scientists better understand the effects of chemicals in climate change, which would be a very immediate real-world application. Katzgraber also foresees the benefit of quantum in machine learning and its myriad applications. “Machine learning seems to be a very promising application of quantum hardware,” he says. “And, because many aspects in the connected world (like) self-driving vehicles depend on machine learning, the impact might be sizable.”
Brian La Cour, a research scientist at Applied Research Laboratories, The University of Texas at Austin, www.arlut.utexas.edu, Center for Quantum Research, says in theory, a quantum computer can do anything a digital computer can do, but quantum computers excel at certain tasks, such as factorization, unstructured searches, and optimization, as well as the simulation of other quantum systems. “There are two competing trends that make quantum computing more necessary,” La Cour says. “On the one hand, our need to process more data and solve more complex computational problems is increasing. This need will only become greater as the world becomes more connected and more automated. On the other hand, classical digital processors aren’t getting any faster. Moore’s law, which for decades has allowed us to meet exponentially growing needs with exponentially growing speed, is coming to an end. A new paradigm in computing is needed.”
La Cour believes quantum computing is coming of age now because of the extraordinary ability to control and manipulate matter and energy at the quantum level. “The field is still relatively new, but the current thinking is that we are close to the tipping point where most of the basic research challenges have been addressed and the ability to scale the technology is within our grasp,” he says. “It is expected that very soon a quantum computer will be demonstrated to solve a problem that is impractical to solve on even the best high-performance supercomputer.”
The representation of multiple states at once makes quantum computing particularly well suited for AI. For example, today, it’s relatively easy to confuse AI-powered voice-activated assistants because they operate with limited data and computational power. Quantum computing, however, could give these systems the boost they need to consider more inputs and respond to queries in a more human-like way.
“The challenges we face in the development of future machine learning and artificial intelligence systems cannot be solved with the current digital computing paradigm,” says La Cour. “Quantum computers have already been used to help train machine-learning algorithms, and new algorithms and applications are continuing to emerge that promise to greatly increase our ability to meet these challenges.”
Securing Your IoT Devices
While the IoT (Internet of Things) offers great potential, it also demands that companies make a greater commitment to security to fend off cyber criminals even if that means focusing more attention on advancements in computing power.
Tech to Stop Impaired Driving
Impaired driving is considered one of the most serious types of distracted driving, and in this column, I am going to address technology’s role in curbing drugged driving.
The Race for Quantum
Last month I took a very close look at fog, edge, and cloud computing. It’s been really interesting to speak with various experts in industry and academia about the various trends that are converging right now to make fog or edge computing more viable for industries.
Distracted Driver Exceptions
For this column, let’s delve into what’s been happening with connected technology and talk about some updates on road safety, distracted driving, and how autonomous vehicles fit into this equation.
Quantum in the Real World
Last March, Volkswagen, www.volkswagen.com, announced a successful research project that leveraged quantum computing for traffic flow optimization. Volkswagen data scientists used a D-Wave system in the cloud to simulate optimized taxi routes from downtown Beijing, China, to the nearest airport, using GPS data from 10,000 taxis to simulate the fastest, most efficient routes.
“Moore’s law, which for decades has allowed us to meet exponentially growing needs with exponentially growing speed, is coming to an end. A new paradigm in computing is needed.” –Brian La Cour, The University of Texas at Austin Center for Quantum Research
The traffic flow optimization algorithm significantly reduced travel times by guiding vehicles so they avoided congestion. What’s more, D-Wave says it was able to process the traffic flow in just a few seconds—a feat that would have taken a classical system 30 minutes to accomplish. Optimization problems like this one are particularly well suited for quantum computers, and the traffic optimization application is one important example of how quantum computing could be transformative for smart cities and smart transportation systems.
While the development of commercially viable quantum computers is still in its infancy, the team at Intel Labs, www.intel.com, is making fast progress. In January, Intel unveiled Tangle Lake, a 49-qubit (quantum bit) superconducting quantum test chip. According to Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, Tangle Lake is an important milestone because it will allow researchers to assess and improve error-correction techniques and simulate computational problems.
For the IoT, Clarke says quantum’s impact will come in time. “As research progresses into quantum computing and more and more qubits are successfully enabled, quantum will certainly be transformative for the Internet of Things, but a quantum device won’t likely show up in an IoT chip in the near term,” Clarke explains. “However, quantum will surely become an active part of powering the cloud, which provides the computational power for the IoT, which means that quantum computing would deliver the ability to dramatically enhance the speed and functionality of the Internet of Things.”
Quantum computers may also one day lead to unbreakable encryption technologies that vastly improve information security within the IoT. Whereas most communication today relies on the difficulty of solving mathematical problems to guarantee security, a quantum cryptographic system can be made perfectly secure, at least in theory, by using a private key between two parties. Importantly, the quantum nature of the key distribution process would allow the two parties to detect the presence of eavesdroppers.
However, quantum’s effect on security is a bit of a double-edged sword. Scott Totzke, CEO and cofounder of ISARA, www.isara.com, a developer of quantum-safe security solutions, points out that quantum computers will be able to break the very specific and difficult math problems used today to keep digital communications secure. “It’s a potential negative consequence of quantum computing, but it doesn’t have to be if the time and resources are invested today to implement quantum-safe options,” Totzke says.
Therefore, in an age of quantum computing, the industry will need to consider new approaches to cybersecurity. MarketsandMarkets Research, www.marketsandmarkets.com, suggests the global quantum cryptography market is expected to reflect this reality, growing from $285.7 million in 2017 to $943.7 million by 2022.
Quantum and Cloud Collide
Peggy introduces the topic of quantum computers, as it relates to the cloud. She says quantum computers can perform complex molecular modeling that we can’t perform today due to computational limitations. A quantum computer can process all possible solutions at once to come to an answer. She ties it into the cloud, saying cloud-based quantum computing is being pioneered by many large companies and also startups. The cloud can provide access to quantum processing.
Despite the progress that has been made in quantum computing, the current nature of quantum computers requires significant infrastructure to keep them isolated from the outside world, which makes them difficult to miniaturize and ruggedize. Intel Labs’ Jim Clarke says qubits are so fragile that any radio frequency noise or unintended observation of them can cause data loss. And, though the future looks bright for quantum computing, most agree that it’s still too early to know for sure whether this technology will live up to the expectations being placed on it. Scale and distribution are just two of the important questions the industry will look to answer in the next decade and beyond.
“Quantum computing is an exciting new computing paradigm with unique problems to be solved and new physics to be discovered,” says Clarke. “(But) when it comes to quantum computing, we’re in mile one of a marathon.” As the race progresses, quantum opportunities and quantum challenges will keep things interesting, to say the least, and, eventually, a new computing paradigm may emerge, though the ripple effects may yet be largely unknown.
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Look Who’s Talking
Phil Renaud, executive director for The Risk Institute at Ohio State University, joined Peggy Smedley to talk about the epidemic that is plaguing this country: distracted driving. He talked about what needs to be done and the behavioral change that is necessary when it comes to cellphones and driving. They discuss the root cause of distracted driving today and what is coming in the month ahead.