The term ‘quantum’ has been familiar to science fiction aficionados for decades now, whether it’s a quantum drive, quantum leap or (for the trekkies among us) quantum teleportation – the list goes on.
It was in the early 1980s, however, that we may have seen the first ‘real’ emergence of quantum computing. Famed theoretical physicist Richard Feynman proposed a basic model for a computer capable of simulating a quantum system, at the first Conference of the Physics of Computation at MIT.
Since the ‘80s, efforts around the world to build a quantum computer have been steadily advancing. In the past 10 years alone, there has been a dramatic increase in R&D activity in the private sector, and not surprisingly. Expectations are very high for the sheer scale of change quantum computing will bring to business – and humanity.
In fact, three-quarters of organizations believe that if a competitor adopted quantum before them, it would disrupt their whole sector, as shown in our new report, Is Business Ready to Make the Quantum Leap?
It turns out, however, that harnessing the properties of nature at quantum scale in the search for a new computing paradigm is not trivial – quite the opposite actually.
Just last year I had the privilege of hosting many of the world’s top scientists at a quantum computing symposium. The consensus was that the breakthroughs needed to propel quantum computing into enterprise-scale applications, with production-grade stability and utility, are at least a decade away.
So when will we get there? And when will we achieve quantum supremacy – that point in time when quantum computers can not only solve existing problems faster, but can solve completely new problems not yet conceived? No one really knows – but it’s a question that’s critical for business leaders right now.
Beyond the limitations of 0s and 1s
Faced with the digital transformation imperative, many business leaders want the power of quantum computing today – particularly for challenging problems like combinatorial optimization.
Combinatorial problems involve exponentially large potential combinations of variables, where the objective is to optimize some factor of value by finding optimal combinations of these variables.
The vast majority (89%) of the business leaders surveyed for our research say the limitations of computing power are preventing them from taking full advantage of combinatorial optimization problem solving for critical business processes.
Many (78%) are forced to rely either on historical data or instinct, due to the computing power available to them.
But help is available today. In contrast to the far-out future of mainstream quantum computers, a new and extraordinarily powerful computing solution is available as we speak, offering business leaders a very real opportunity to begin their quantum transformation now.
Fujitsu’s quantum-inspired Digital Annealer can help businesses dramatically improve many existing combinatorial optimization solutions, as well as addressing problems that are unsolvable using today’s classical computers.
The outcomes that are possible with the Digital Annealer will enable businesses to realize profound digital transformation-related benefits, on the road to harnessing quantum computers when they become available.
A bridge to quantum today
The Digital Annealer uses an innovative data processing architecture enabling us to break through the limits of conventional computers by several orders of magnitude.
Inspired by the key characteristics of quantum computing, including superposition, quantum tunneling and entanglement, Digital Annealer-powered solutions can examine truly massive data combinations and evaluate them simultaneously to find the optimal solution in seconds.
The technology is already helping businesses in a number of industries tackle complex challenges. For example, a manufacturer that uses advanced industrial robots is streamlining robotic routing combinations on its production line to drive material improvements in its manufacturing process, while a UK financial institution is optimizing investment portfolios in real-time.
With a wide range of applications from accelerating the identification of novel molecular structures for drug discovery and material science to optimizing 5G networks, businesses can benefit in many ways from solutions powered by this technology. And, what’s more important, they can realize these benefits today.
Steps in the right direction
With a wide range of possibilities and use cases, where do you start your quantum, or quantum-inspired journey? Here are three recommendations.
Look beyond the usual digital transformation actors
With phrases like ‘data is the new oil’ now in the mainstream media, digital transformation, and harnessing the data that powers it, is increasingly hitting the boardroom agenda as a high priority.
Accordingly, newly created chief digital officers, digital transformation architects, and innovation managers are leading efforts to reimagine data-driven business processes with innovative technologies.
However, there are often actors in traditional operating positions who are also well suited to champion this discussion. The operations research (OR) function may be one of them. Often, teams in this function are already responsible for tackling combinatorial optimization problems.
Consequently, they may be running and maintaining complex, long-standing mathematical models – rather than innovating with new technologies or even digitally transforming their day-to-day activities.
Business leaders should engage with leaders in these areas, as well as technical professionals – often referred to as ‘quants’ – encouraging them to proactively search for and evaluate quantum and quantum-inspired technologies to improve operations in novel, innovative ways.
Opportunities exist today to leapfrog existing models and solve problems previously unimaginable, but that often means looking beyond the usual digital transformation suspects.
Think outside the box
It’s also important to understand that quantum-inspired optimization solutions can have a big impact on unexpected areas of the organization.
For example, Fujitsu’s technology was recently used in an automotive design process to minimize the amount of cabin noise caused by a vehicle’s exterior mirrors. Think about it – the geometry of the mirror, wind vectors, speed and noise variables, etc. It’s a combinatorial optimization problem.
With this unique use case in mind, companies should consider establishing an optimization task force to examine the role of data across all facets of the organization, explicitly in search of unique combinatorial optimization problems with hidden potential.
With the enormous power of quantum-inspired technology like the Digital Annealer, business leaders can be adventurous in the search for unique, often unprecedented opportunities to extract value in many areas of operations.
As well, working with an optimization services advisor can also help facilitate cross-functional dialogue to harness teams’ creativity and identify the best opportunities for impact.
Start small – but do start
Finally, companies should embrace the fact that the technology and data needed to optimize operational functions in new ways are available today.
Data really is the new oil in terms of its untapped value, and although mainstream quantum computing may still be years away, quantum-inspired optimization solutions like those powered by Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer can harness data in unique ways to drive transformative impact and value inside the enterprise.
Accordingly, companies should begin exploring quantum and quantum-inspired computing technologies. By starting small with one or two pilot projects, you can begin to build your organization’s experience and understanding of the opportunities that are available.
From fiction to reality
Businesses are well aware that quantum computing will be disruptive when it eventually arrives.
But rather than just sitting back and waiting, there’s an opportunity to use quantum-inspired computing now to move well beyond the limitations of present-day computing and revolutionize key business processes in ways that go straight to the bottom or top line.
Quantum computing will undoubtedly create incredible applications in the future. But with the Digital Annealer, business leaders can begin their quantum journey –and benefit from advanced, readily available technology today.
Read more about business leaders’ views on quantum computing in Is Business Ready to Make the Quantum Leap?