Does Devs forecast a leap forward for quantum computing?
Quantum computing isn’t the most obvious basis for a hit TV series, but BBC drama Devs has proved stories about complex technological advances can make for binge-worthy viewing. In fact, quantum innovation is increasingly gaining mainstream attention; with blockbuster films such as Interstellar, Avengers: Endgame and Ant-Man bringing multiple fantastic possibilities to the big screen, from time travel and turning down gravity to entering the ‘quantum realm’.
What makes Devs stand out, however, is that it explores real areas of scientific research and tech development that are happening today — and could change the future. To be specific, the show looks at how harnessing quantum mechanics can fuel the construction of ultra-capacity machines that far exceed current capabilities and could herald what Morgan Stanley believes will be the next major industrial revolution. Or in other words: quantum computing.
The question is: where exactly are we in the quantum journey, and what could enormous computing power mean for the business community?
Quantum computing 101: It’s all in the quibits
Essentially, quantum computing is about leveraging quantum mechanics to hyper-charge processing scope. As one of the most convoluted aspects of physics, quantum mechanics isn’t easy to boil down; described by Princeton University as a weird and wonderful “Lewis Carroll-like” place. But the key concept for understanding quantum computing applications is superposition — where objects exist in more than one state at once.
This idea is what fuels the core technology behind quantum computing: the quantum bit or quibit. In brief, the volume of information conventional computers can deal with is limited by the ability of their standard digital bits to take on different values — either 1 or 0 — but quibits can hold both simultaneously. This means they can manage much greater quantities of information and perform more intricate tasks, such as running equations involving large numbers of variables and instantly assessing the probability of multiple outcomes.
So, where are we now?
Starting with Devs (spoiler alert), a super-computer that can accurately predict the future of everything isn’t set to emerge any time soon. While this vision is rooted in well-established theories — Pilot Wave and Many Worlds theory — it faces one big issue: even the smartest computers or quantum algorithms can only work with the information they are given. Holistic forecasting would call for data covering the exact circumstances of everything that is occurring now and has ever been, and at present, collecting and processing such colossal information just isn’t possible.
But beyond the fictional world of Devs, there are many real-life projects pushing quantum computing evolution forward. For example, Google has built a 53-quibit quantum prototype and already illustrated its capacity to complete random calculations in minutes, versus the 10,000 years it would take today’s fastest ordinary computer. Meanwhile, many other tech leaders have launched offerings aimed at better educating tomorrow’s quantum workforce, as well as making sophisticated tools available for immediate implementation.
In 2016, for instance, IBM’s Quantum Experience (QE) initiative opened public access to its 5-quibit and 15-quibit systems, with a particular focus on allowing future specialists to hone their skills and experiment with writing quantum programmes. More recently, Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled its fully-managed quantum computing offering Braket, followed closely by Microsoft’s Azure Quantum platform. Both operating via the cloud, these latest additions represent an exciting step in boosting quantum adoption; enabling developers and organisations to harness powerful software and hardware, without sizeable investment.
What could be the business benefits?
Integration of quantum tech with everyday business processes and practices is still some way off. But according to McKinsey, there is still a need for companies in all sectors to enhance their understanding of coming innovations that will transform the way they work and start crafting their quantum computing “game plan”. For Accenture, for example, this will mean dialling up focus on several key areas of development, including quantum optimisation and artificial intelligence (AI).
1. Making tough decisions fast
No matter what their focus, most companies frequently grapple with the challenge of multi-faceted decisions; be that determining the optimal supply path for delivering goods on time and at minimal cost, or assessing how to mitigate risk in financial portfolios. Massive capacity for simultaneous calculation means that quantum computers will be well placed to tackle and solve these optimisation problems quickly. In addition to assessing different possibilities at a faster rate than traditional computers, they will also be able to take an extensive array of variables into account and find the best solutions for each situation — paving the way for more efficient, precise and agile decision-making in every context.
2. Improving predictive analytics
While it might not be possible to feed AI algorithms on a complete history of everything, there is scope for quantum computing to expand the quantity of data they process — and in turn, the scope of their predictions. Predictive analytics is already becoming a vital element of the business toolkit, especially for digital marketing. Using machine learning (ML), firms are tapping data about past and present consumer activity to spot patterns and make predictions that help them guide smarter marketing. With quantum capacity, they will be able to significantly extend their data horizons: gaining deeper learnings and building wider-ranging models of consumer behaviour that allow them to better anticipate what target audiences are likely to want next, with increasing accuracy.
For now, the greatest leaps in quantum are likely to come from major tech forces; with the likes of Google, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft working to develop their quantum abilities and number of quibits. This quest will come with its own raft of baffling challenges, including keeping quibits in their dual state for long enough and finding ways of enabling them to talk to each other — a process commonly called quantum entanglement.
But although these issues are likely to continue testing the world’s greatest scientific and tech minds in the years ahead, change is on its way. As quantum machines multiply and cloud platforms increase wider access, we are inching steadily but surely towards a faster and smarter future that’s much more tangible and valuable than the omnipotent dream of Devs.