A year ago, China announced the creation of the Sunway TaihuLight computer, which has the capacity to carry out 93 quadrillion calculations per second. Impressive right? While this represents a fantastic achievement, this machine is likely to be outsmarted in the next few months. Science is at a cross road and it would seem binary computers have taken us as far as we can go. So what’s next?
In laymen’s terms, quantum computing is the field dedicated to creating computers more powerful than anything we currently have based on quantum mechanics principles and a really, really cold freezer space.
Quantum computers will soon be able to execute multiple calculations at once, speeding up extremely complex operations. Deloitte says that “it would take a classical computer 10.79 quintillion years to break the 128-bit AES encryption standard, while a quantum computer could conceivably break this type of encryption in approximately six months.”
Without the capacity to replicate protein molecules or to predict complex weather systems, several fields have reached a wall. For the next wave of scientific breakthroughs to happen, quantum computing needs to take us from the 50-ton computers of the 1950s to the iPhone, all within the next few months.
When the technology is made available, the impacts of quantum computing will be far-reaching across all industries. Most global companies have understood this, and in aviation and aerospace especially, the applications are promising. With the capacity to optimise complex algorithms, quantum computers could improve air traffic management systems, reduce travel time between destinations as well as fuel consumption.
Improved data storage, communications and security systems could bring an end to issues of air traffic congestion, a major concern for most major city airports such as Dubai International Airport, which could otherwise see growth slow down as passengers look for other, less busy transit options. But more importantly, the current challenges around software debugging and overall speeding up the software systems verification and validation (V&V) process, critical for the aviation industry, could be a thing of the past. Predicting complex weather systems? Personal travel to space? Leave the math to the computer.
Most global companies already understand the importance of supporting the development of quantum computing and are actively looking for applications in their respective fields. In the last three years alone, governments across the world have invested $2.2 billion to support research into the technology. Airbus is investing in cryptography applications. Lockheed Martin has a research program looking at potential V&V quantum applications. It’s not hard to see the possibilities. However, with substantial investment required, it seems quantum computing is likely to be adopted by Fortune 100 companies initially. Does this mean you should leave it to the big guns before taking an interest?
Any new technology, especially on the scale of quantum computing, is bound to bring about a sea of change that will affect the way you do business. For example, if quantum computers are able to decrypt code in record time, where does that leave security infrastructures? Could sensitive data become vulnerable to quantum computer cyber-attacks? Could your company’s data be left vulnerable? Should you start building your cyber defences already? The new scientific wave will also bring about its own ecosystem of supporting technology, offering smaller businesses opportunities to pioneer the way towards the 5th industrial revolution.
Yes, quantum computers still have a long way to go. Currently, only one firm sells quantum computers and systems have to be kept at temperatures colder than outer-space - one of many engineering problems associated with advancing the science behind it. However, while the technology isn’t yet at a stage where it can outsmart current super computers, this is not a distant dream. Google has just published its plan to create a 50 qbit quantum computer in the next few months. Such a device would render obsolete the most powerful computer we have, ushering in the era of quantum supremacy. So while building quantum-resistant infrastructures around your encrypted data may be a little way away, it is worth keeping an eye on the latest developments in the field. It is likely to develop much quicker than you might think.