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February 26, 2019

What is quantum computing and why does it matter to business?

By Priya Kantaria

Quantum computers represent a radical departure from traditional digital computers in that, rather than relying on transistors, which can have a state of zero or one, they make use of quantum particles that can exist in multiple states between zero and one. In quantum computing, a unit of computation is called a qubit. When multiple qubits are combined, they can process multiple options simultaneously. This allows them to process information in a fraction of the time it would take even the fastest non-quantum systems. Quantum computing is theoretically well suited to complex mathematical problems in the domains of simulation, factoring, and encryption. So what is quantum computing in business and why is it important?

Certain ideas emerging from quantum physics, namely quantum entanglement and superposition, led scientist Richard Feynman in the 1980s to postulate a new kind of computer that would be capable of solving problems currently beyond the reach of traditional, binary computing techniques.

Building on this early work, many pioneering technology providers such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, and D-Wave are now racing to develop a working quantum computer capable of moving beyond traditional computers, termed quantum supremacy, opening up numerous new market opportunities across security, life sciences, manufacturing, and many other industries.

Why does quantum computing matter to business?

To date, most quantum computing implementations have focused on moving from theory to practice by resolving physical issues, namely how to handle ‘noise’, and encouraging developer interest and investment. The challenge faced by early practitioners revolves around a lack of working and available quantum computers capable of actually solving real-world problems is currently being addressed by high-performance computing. The trouble is that quantum development will usher in an entirely new paradigm of software development where programmers must learn to work not in bits but in qubits. For this reason, we expect to see the early-movers focus on both hardware and education, seeking to create supportive developer ecosystems, which will come into play once quantum hardware enters mainstream production.

Quantum computing will have a significant impact in several key domains, where complex mathematics is required in order to support simulation or factorisation.

The leaders in the field are all treating their quantum computing efforts as long term research and, while in the next two years we expect to see partnerships and consortia form around quantum technology, this is more likely to take the form of pooled research than product development.

This article was produced in association with GlobalData Thematic research. More details here about how to access in-depth reports and detailed thematic scorecard rankings.