Learn about the benefits and use cases of quantum computing. Plus, get insights into quantum cryptography from an expert.
Investors dedicated $2.35 billion to quantum tech startups in 2022, according to McKinsey & Company. With the proliferation of quantum technologies, business leaders may wonder if quantum computing is appropriate and safe for their jobs.
I interviewed Mario Milicevic, chief engineer at connectivity hardware and software company MaxLinear and an IEEE member, to talk about developments in quantum computing for research and cybersecurity.
What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computing is a method of performing calculations using qubits instead of binary bits. While binary bits can contain one of two values, 1 or 0, qubits can contain a combination of possible values. Such a combination, or “superposition,” can provide a huge range of possible values that the quantum computer can use in its calculations.
Another important quality of qubits is their entanglement, which means that qubits that are not in the same physical space can still be entangled with each other.
“You can solve big math problems [with quantum computers] which are prohibitively expensive to solve using classical computers. [This is a problem] we have today because computation time is growing exponentially,” Milicevic said.
When should a company use quantum computing?
A company should use quantum computing if the mathematical problem to be solved is too complex for conventional computing to be completed in a practical amount of time. The pharmaceutical and materials engineering industries have found use cases for using quantum computing to find out why and how certain molecular bonds match or create new materials.
People who want to use quantum computing for business should be willing to pay for access to a quantum computer. Building and operating one independently can be a huge financial burden, Milicevic said.
Milicevic also pointed out that quantum computing isn’t always relevant to the tasks an organization is trying to accomplish. Setting up the infrastructure requires enormous effort and energy (for example, quantum computers must be cooled to near absolute zero).
“For most of [mathematical] problems, classical computers will actually surpass quantum computers. And more importantly, they will surpass quantum computers at a much lower cost,” Milicevic said.
“It’s really a matter of understanding IS the problem [Im] trying to solve complexes mathematically? Milicevic said. “’There are a million combinations? And if so, then am I really trying to optimize something? What is the cost to execute it?’”
SEE: Why IT should keep quantum computing in mind (TechRepublic)
The field of quantum computing is so new that many of the major players are still in the experimental stages. Most of the projects are likely to be undertaken by governments, massive organizations or telecom infrastructure giants. However, it marks an interesting frontier for computing and communication.
What quantum computers are available for use?
To take advantage of quantum computing, a company may need to rent space on a computer. Some options include:
- IBM provides API access to its quantum computing resources.
- Google offers a Python package library of frameworks for programming quantum computers.
- D-Waves Leap, which allows researchers and developers to rent time by the minute on its hardware, is different because it features quantum annealing, which is a mathematical process that can be used to find the lowest possible energy state. For example, put simply, it can be used to find the most efficient route to travel between many locations.
- Amazon is looking to become a marketplace for quantum computing with Braket, a platform for developers working in scientific research.
- Microsoft Azure leases time on its cloud service, which can perform a mix of quantum and conventional computations.
- Quantinuum, which originated from Honeywell, launched the System Model H2 second generation quantum computing solution in May 2023. This system is quite experimental and could be very relevant for researchers.
How will quantum cryptography change cybersecurity?
When it comes to cybersecurity, quantum computing and other methods that take into account quantum states, such as quantum cryptography, could be used by attackers as well as defenders. Quantum computers could potentially solve factoring problems to break encryption keys very quickly.
There are two cybersecurity elements related to quantum computing to keep in mind, Milicivec said:
- Post-quantum cryptography or post-quantum cryptographyin which attack-resistant algorithms are developed with a quantum computer.
- Distribution of quantum keyswhich is enabled using quantum computers and an embedded fiber optic cable between two physical locations.
Companies including JPMorgan Chase, Toshiba, Global Network Systems and software vendor Ciena and ID Quantique in Switzerland are working on quantum key distribution. Research into quantum key distribution is ongoing as organizations try to solve problems such as errors introduced by the difficulty of maintaining the extremely low temperatures ideal for quantum computing and how to improve the stability of qubits.
Quantum key distribution with optical fiber would allow organizations to quickly know if someone has dropped their connection.
Regarding the distribution of the quantum key, Milicevic said, “If any attacker or eavesdropper were to somehow cut this fiber-optic cable and insert some kind of device that would allow them to measure light and then retransmit it, they would actually they would disrupt what is known as the quantum state of that light.”
This would make it “impossible” for a physical disruption to go undetected, Milicevic said.
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