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Quantum is years away, but business case can be made today

D-Wave has unveiled a new hybrid quantum computing system, which it claims will help businesses make the most of this emerging technology. Earlier in September, rival quantum computing systems provider IBM announced a roadmap to deliver a 1,000-plus qubit device, called Quantum Condor, by 2023, as a milestone towards a million-plus qubit system.

D-Wave has now unveiled its next-generation platform, the Leap quantum cloud service, and Advantage quantum system, which it says offers more than 5,000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, in addition to an expanded hybrid solver service that can run problems with up to one million variables.

Quantum education programmes, developer kits, simulators, hybrid architectures and the availability of quantum computing resources on the public cloud are among the initiatives the leaders on quantum computing have taken to help businesses experiment and start to understand the benefits of quantum computing, even though wide-scale adoption may be years away.

For instance, in September, Microsoft announced it had signed up Toshiba to its Azure Quantum programme. Toshiba provides a simulated bifurcation machine (SBM) on Azure Quantum. According to Microsoft, this is a practical piece of software that can solve large-scale combinatorial optimisation problems at high speed, while harnessing the GPU resources in the Azure cloud.

Business opportunity

Earlier this year, McKinsey partners Alexandre Ménard, Ivan Ostojic, Mark Patel and senior consultant Daniel Volz discussed why business leaders should start thinking about planning for the age of quantum computing. None of this will happen overnight.

While the authors of the article said that many companies and businesses will not be able to generate significant value from quantum computing for a decade or more, some will see gains in the next five years. Given that the potential for quantum computing is so great, and the technological advances are coming so rapidly, they wrote: “Every business leader should have a basic understanding of how the technology works, the kinds of problems it can help solve, and how she or he should prepare to harness its potential.”

In fact, more than four-fifths of organisations that took part in a recent survey say they have an application that could benefit from quantum computing.

The survey of 253 enterprises by 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, which was commissioned by D-Wave, reported that 39% of surveyed enterprises are already experimenting with quantum computing.

More than half (55%) of the enterprises surveyed said solving computationally complex problems was business-critical for their organisations. The survey also found that 57% of decision-makers regard the potential of quantum computing to their organisation as significantly impactful.

However, 62% of the enterprises surveyed said they have no current plans to use quantum computing. Of the 153 respondents who answered the question on their plans over the next three years, 68% said they had no plans, but admitted they had identified possible problem areas that could be solved with quantum computing.

“A surprisingly large number of organisations are already experimenting today, and the majority have use cases in mind for where quantum computing could make an impact,” said Owen Rogers, research director at 451 Research. “Considering that enterprises are leveraging quantum computing to obtain a competitive advantage, those not experimenting now may be at a disadvantage in the future.”

Rogers also noted: “Respondents indicated that quantum computing isn’t just a mechanism for solving academic or theoretical problems – organisations’ interest in quantum computing is tied to driving a tangible, financial return.”

Car maker Volkwagen has been a customer of D-Wave for a number of years. Florian Neukart, director of advanced technologies at Volkswagen Group of America, said: “Embracing quantum computing is nothing new for Volkswagen. We were the first to run a hybrid quantum application in production in Lisbon last November with our bus routing application.

“At Volkswagen, we are focusing on building up a deep understanding of meaningful applications of quantum computing in a corporate context. The D-Wave system gives us the opportunity to address optimisation tasks with a large number of variables at an impressive speed. With this, we are taking a step further towards quantum applications that will be suitable for everyday business use.”

In July, Spanish bank BBVA discussed how it was experimenting with using quantum algorithms for dynamic portfolio optimisation, which relies on a significant number of variables to determine the best combination of assets. Quantum computing is being trialled to calculate a portfolio’s performance over time, the possible trading fees, and potential impacts on the market price of high-volume buying and selling.

Working with D-Wave, Accenture ran a test using quantum annealing to demonstrate that there are benefits to using quantum techniques over traditional methods when hundreds of assets and/or factors are involved in the calculation. According to BBVA, the promising results have convinced the team to continue its investigation of this case with other technologies.

Discussing the potential impact of quantum computing on financial services, Carlos Kuchkovky, global head of research and patents at BBVA, said:“Although this technology is still in an early stage of development, its potential to impact the sector is already a reality. Our research is helping us identify the areas where quantum computing could represent a greater competitive advantage, once the tools have matured sufficiently. We believe this will be, for certain concrete tasks, in the next two to five years.” 

Alan Baratz, CEO of D-Wave, said: “Quantum computing is poised to fundamentally transform the way businesses – especially large-scale enterprises – solve critical problems. As enterprise leaders and decision-makers rethink business processes to become more agile and innovative, they need the tools and support to turn their ideas into quantum applications that have a real impact on their business.

“Whether the goal is improved efficiency for a global manufacturing company, increased revenue for a financial services firm, or faster time to market for new pharmaceutical therapies, D-Wave is committed to unlocking these new opportunities for businesses across diverse industries.”

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