For Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, quantum computing is among three technologies — the other two being artificial intelligence and mixed reality — that will soon disrupt the status quo. Unlike other kinds of technologies, it will impact not just work, but everything including communities, economies and how we live. In response, researchers at Microsoft are already writing the software to build a scalable computer that will be ready in five years.

The research team at Microsoft tasked with building these computers explained in an introduction to quantum computers that while they have the power to provide solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, it is unlikely they will replace classic computers, at least not in the medium term. Instead, the researchers argue, both technologies will work together to solve common problems, which will probably come as a relief to hardware and software companies that have built their current and future business models on current computing practices.

It can be helpful to think of a quantum computer like a GPU — a specialized processor used for applicable scenarios. Similarly, as classical computers run computations, the workloads or problems best suited for quantum could be processed by a quantum computer.

The process of building a quantum computer includes creating the raw materials needed to make topological quantum devices, fabricating the cold electronics and refrigeration systems, and developing the overall infrastructure needed to bring the solution to life. But let’s start at the beginning.

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What is Quantum Computing?

Steve Kurniawan is responsible for content marketing and growth strategy of I Know SEO. He is currently working on his master’s thesis on quantum interpretation. Kurniawan said that to understand quantum computing, we should understand at least the basic concept of quantum mechanics, notably quantum "things."

Quantum "things" are things smaller than atoms (neutrons, electrons), there are phenomenon that are completely irrational when we compare it to our “classical” reality, which is, the things we can see and feel.

Quantum computing uses quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition. This is where things can exist in two different realities at once. So, if in today’s digital computer we use “bits,” where the bit can either be 0 or 1; in quantum computer we will have “qubits,” where the bits can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. This means that the computers built on this will be vastly superior to what we have today, in the size of data, the speed of data processing, and quite probably things we haven’t yet imagined.

“Nowadays, quantum computers are still in infancy, but once realized, they won’t only disrupt the digital workplace, but possibly, everything from how our smartphones work to how we will communicate to the possibility of teleportation, and so on,” he said.

Where Quantum Is Being Used

While quantum computing is still being researched, it is being used in some industries, according to Scott Hamilton, solutions architect for quantum and high-powered computing at Atos North America. He said that there is already a very large utilization of quantum computing within the realm of material science as it applies to molecular structures and quantum chemistry applications. Atos, for example, has released a few quantum chemistry algorithms in conjunction with its Quantum Learning Machine (QLM).

Atos is not the only one. He pointed out that Rigetti, Microsoft, Google and IBM all include quantum chemistry libraries in the simulator and quantum programming language sets too.

Simulators like the QLM have a couple of unique use cases in the enterprise. Simulators enable the development of new algorithms for security, encryption and optimization without the need to access quantum processor technologies.

Learning Opportunities

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Quantum Risks

The increase in computational complexity enabled by quantum computing should have positive impacts on the world in areas like chemical modeling and supply chain optimization. But what's often overlooked about quantum computing is that it may very well break all of the public key encryption that holds the internet together, Justin Sherman, cybersecurity policy fellow at New America said.

Current computers cannot efficiently factor large prime numbers used in encryption, but a powerful enough quantum computer might change that through Shor's algorithm, which means that everything from financial transactions to government communications protected via public-key encryption may no longer be safe.

Global Effects Of Quantum

This could have devastating effects on global security and stability, as it risks fundamentally undermining trust in the global and open internet and everything sent across it. As a result, Tim Hollebeek, industry and standards technical strategist at DigiCert, argues that CSOs and CISOs should talk to their vendors about their post-quantum transition plans. (A CISO, or chief information security officer, is the senior-level executive within an organization responsible for establishing a maintaining the enterprise vision, strategy and program to ensure that information assets and technologies are adequately protected.)

Hollebeek recommends that vendors who understand the risks, take advantage of having products that are crypto-agile, meaning they have the ability to upgrade their systems to new cryptographic protocols as they become available. For high-assurance systems, and for systems with long lifetimes that cannot easily be replaced, there are some techniques that can be deployed now to reduce the risks from future quantum computers.

Examples include hybrid cryptography, where a post-quantum technique is used in parallel with a classical technique, and hash-based signatures, which can be used to sign software updates. These techniques can be used to securely deliver new cryptographic algorithms to devices in the field once they become available.

The even wider implications for this kind of computing — geopolitical implications. The quest for quantum computing supremacy is a geopolitical priority for Europe, China, Canada, Australia and the United States. Advantages gained by acquiring the first computer that renders all other computers obsolete would be enormous and bestow economic, military and public health advantages to the winner.

As a result the race is on to make these computers scalable for use in any situation. Only this week, the science site reported that University of California scientists have demonstrated a theoretical method to enhance the performance of quantum computers, providing an important step to scale the technology. This is only the beginning though, and with companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM already pushing the boundaries, it is likely it will become a common enterprise technology in the near future.