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Quantum computing: The hype is real—how to get going?

27 Apr 2023

We are witnessing remarkable advancements in quantum computing, regarding the hardware but also its theory and usage.

Now is the age of exploring: How for example will quantum machine learning differ from the classical, will it be beneficial or malicious for cyber security? Together with Fraunhofer and the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), we explored that unsettled question and found something sensible to do today. There are two effective ways in which organizations can start preparing for the quantum revolution.

The progress in quantum computing is accelerating

The first quantum computers were introduced 25 years ago (2 and 3 qubits), the first commercially available annealing systems are now 10 years old. During the last 5 years, we have seen bigger steps forward, for example systems with more than twenty qubits. Recent developments include the Osprey chip with 433 qubits by IBM, first results of quantum error correction by Google, as well as important results in interconnecting quantum chips announced by the MIT.

From hype to realistic expectations

Where some see steady progress and concrete steps forward, others remain skeptical and point out missing results or unkept promises—the most prominent of which is found in the field of the factorization into large prime numbers: There still is a complete lack of tangible results in breaking the RSA cryptosystem.

However, development in quantum computing has already passed various important milestones. Dismissing it as mere hype that will pass eventually now becomes increasingly difficult. In all likelihood, this discussion can soon be laid to rest, or at least refocused towards very specific quantum computing frontiers.

The domain of machine learning has a natural symbiosis with quantum computing. Especially from a theoretical perspective, research in this field is considered fairly advanced. Various research directions and study routes have been taken, and a multitude of results are available. While much research is done through the simulation of quantum computers, there are also various results of experiments run on actual, non-simulated quantum devices.

As both the interest and the potential of quantum machine learning is remarkably high, Capgemini and the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS, have delved deeply into this topic. On request of the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), we went as far as analyzing the potential use for, as well as against, cyber security. One of the major results of this collaboration is the report “Quantum Machine Learning in the Context of IT Security“, published by the BSI. Current developments indicate that there is trust into quantum machine learning as a research direction and it’s (perceived) future potential.

Laggards increasingly lack opportunities

The ever-growing availability of better and more efficient IT technologies and products is not always reasonable to implement and often difficult to mirror in an organization. Nevertheless, innovation means that a certain “technology inflation” constantly devalues existing solutions. Therefore, an important responsibility of every IT department is to keep up with this inflation by implementing upgrades and deploying new technologies.

Let us consider a company that still delays the adoption of cloud computing. While this may have been reasonable for some in the early days, the technology has matured. Over time, companies that have shied away from adoption have missed out on various cloud computing benefits while others took the chance to gain a competitive advantage. Even more, the longer the adoption was delayed or the slower it was conducted, the further the company has allowed itself to fall behind.

Time to jump on the quantum computing bandwagon?

Certainly, quantum technology is still too new, too unstable, and too limited today to adopt it in a productive environment right away. In that sense, a pressure to design and implement plans for incorporating quantum computing into the day-to-day business does not exist today.

However, is that the whole story? Let us consider two important pre-implementation aspects: The first of these is to ensure everyone’s attention for the topic: For an eventual adoption, a widespread appreciation for what might be gained is crucial to get people on board. Without it, there is a high risk of failing­—after all, every new technology comes with various challenges and affords some dedication. But developing the motivation to adopt something new and tackle the challenges takes time. So, it’s best to start early with building awareness and basic understanding of the benefits throughout all levels and (IT) departments.

The second aspect is even more difficult to achieve: experience. This translates to know-how, participation, and practice within the organization to get prepared for the adoption of technologies once they are ready for productive deployment. In the case of quantum computing, gaining experience is harder to achieve than with other recent innovations: In contrast for example to cloud computing—which constitutes a different way of doing the same thing, and thus allows companies to get used to them slowly—quantum technologies represent a fundamentally new way of computation, as well as a completely new approach of solving problems and answering questions.

The key to the coming quantum revolution is a quantum of agility

Bearing in mind the scale of both pre-implementation aspects and of the uncertainty of when exactly quantum is going to deliver advantage in the real world, organizations need to start getting ready now. On a technical level, and in the realm of security, the solution for the threat of quantum cryptanalysis is deployment of post-quantum cryptography. However, on an organizational level, the solution is crypto agility : having done the necessary homework to be able to adopt quickly to the changes, whenever they come. Applying the same concept, quantum agility represents having the means to adapt quickly to the fundamental transformations that will come with quantum computing.

Thus, building awareness and changing minds now will have a considerable pay-off in the future. But how can organizations best initiate this shift in mindset towards quantum? Building awareness is a gradual process that can be promoted by a working group even with small investments. This core group might for example look out for possible use cases specific to the respective sector. Through various paths of internal communication, they can spread the information in the proper form and depth to all functions across the organization.

To build up knowledge and experience, the focus should not be on viable products, aiming to replace existing solutions within the company. Instead, it is a way of playing around with new possibilities, of venturing down paths that might not ever yield any tangible results but aiming to discover guard rails subjective to each corporation and examine fields where quantum computing might eventually be the way to substantial competitive advantages.

Frontrunners are gaining experience in every sector

For example, some financial institutions are already exploring the use of quantum computing for portfolio optimization and risk analysis, which will enable them to make better financial predictions in the future. Within the pharma sector, similar efforts are made, gauging the potential of new ways of drug discovery.

In the space of quantum cyber security, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS, Capgemini has built a quantum demonstration: performing spam filtering on a quantum computer . While this might be the most overpriced—and under engineered—spam filter ever, it is a functioning proof of concept.

Justifying investment in quantum computing requires long-term thinking

The gap between companies in raising organizational awareness and gaining experience with the new technology is gradually growing. Laggards have a considerable risk of experiencing the coming quantum computing revolution as a steamroller, flattening everyone that finds themselves unprepared.

The risks and challenges associated with quantum technology certainly include the cost of adoption, the availability of expertise and knowledgeable talent, as well as the high potential of unsuccessful research approaches. However, the cost of doing nothing would be the highest. So, it’s best to start now.

We don’t know when exactly the quantum revolution will take place, but it’s obvious that IBM, Google and many more are betting on it—and in the Capgemini’s Quantum Lab, we are exploring the future as well.

Christian Knopf

Senior Manager Cyber Security
Christian Knopf is a cyber defence advisor and security architect at Capgemini and has a particular consulting focus on security strategy. Future innovations such as quantum algorithms are also in his field of interest, as are the recent successes of deep neural networks and their implications to the security of clients he works with.