Quantum Computing

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Quantum Computing

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00021091

Publication Date: 1812

Report Type: TUTORIAL


A quantum computer is a computing device that leverages certain
phenomena, like superposition and entanglement that occur at the
subatomic level, to solve problems. The quantum process, which is complicated and
somewhat counterintuitive, just like quantum mechanics itself, enables
quantum computers to solve multi-variable problems more rapidly than
their conventional counterparts, facilitating, for example, complex operations
involving machine learning and cryptography.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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A quantum computer is a computing device that leverages certain phenomena, like
superposition and entanglement that occur at the subatomic level, to solve

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As described by the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University
of Waterloo:

  • "Superposition is essentially the ability of a quantum system to be in
    multiple states at the same time.

  • "Entanglement is an extremely strong correlation that exists between
    quantum particles – so strong, in fact, that two or more quantum particles
    can be inextricably linked in perfect unison, even if separated by great

While conventional computers process bits, which possess one of two discrete
states, 0 and 1, quantum computers process quantum bits (or "qubits"),
which possess an infinite number of possible states.

As explained by Accenture Labs, conventional computers are deterministic,
"repeated computations on the same input will lead to the same output." In
contrast, quantum computers are probabilistic, "measurements on
superposed states yield probabilistic results," with confidence established
through repeated computations. Rather than arriving at a result, quantum
computers very quickly "converge" on a result.2

The quantum process, which is complicated and somewhat counterintuitive, just
like quantum mechanics itself, enables quantum computers to solve multi-variable
problems more rapidly than their conventional counterparts, facilitating, for
example, complex operations involving machine learning and cryptography.

Fifth Generation

According to Accenture, "Many people believe that quantum computing is
one of several technologies that will enable the "fifth generation" of
computers," as described in Table 1.

Table 1. Computer Generations

First Generation

Vacuum Tubes

1940 – 1956

Second Generation


1956 – 1964

Third Generation

Integrated Circuits

1964 – 1971

Fourth Generation


1971 – Present

Fifth Generation

Quantum Computers

Present –

Source: Accenture Labs3

Although quantum computing holds enormous promise, that promise, at present,
remains largely unrealized, leading Accenture to conclude that "it is unlikely classical computing will be replaced any time soon by quantum computing. The more likely future scenario is that quantum computing will augment subroutines of classical algorithms that can be efficiently run on quantum computers, such as sampling, to tackle specific business

The Doubters

While many in the scientific and IT communities are excited about the prospect of
developing quantum computers, the field has attracted a considerable number of
doubters. Despite the success of D-Wave Systems, the world’s only
commercial supplier of quantum computers, many complain that quantum computing,
like nuclear fusion, is always 20 years off. It’s a "maybe" technology
worthy of basic research but not much more.

Other critics, like physicist Mikhail Dyakonov, offer more pointed
objections. "While
I believe that … experimental research is beneficial and may lead to a better
understanding of complicated quantum systems, I’m skeptical that these efforts
will ever result in a practical quantum computer. Such a computer would
have to be able to manipulate – on a microscopic level and with enormous
precision – a physical system characterized by an unimaginably huge set of
parameters, each of which can take on a continuous range of values. Could
we ever learn to control the more than 10300
continuously variable parameters defining the quantum state of such a system? My answer is simple. No, never."5

The Players

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In the US, Google, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft,
among others, are actively engaged in quantum computing research and

More than mere R&D, in Canada, D-Wave Systems, "The Quantum Computing
Company," can lay claim to being the world’s only commercial supplier of quantum
computers with its D-Wave 2000Q model.

According to analyst Scott Fulton III, "In
April 2016, the European Union launched a project it calls

Quantum Technologies Flagship,
with the aim of boosting quantum computing research and development throughout


IBM is promoting IBM Q, described as an "industry first initiative to build
universal quantum computers for business and science."

IBM Q quantum devices are accessed via Qiskit, a modular, open-source programming framework. Several devices are available for public use through the cloud,
including 5- and 16-qubit devices which are accessible for free through the IBM Q
Experience and Qiskit.

In addition, 20-qubit devices are available to company
clients through the IBM Q Network.

The Applications

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With technology as real – and yet, as speculative – as quantum computing, the
number and nature of potential quantum applications is only limited by the
imagination of developers.

Accenture Labs has identified 150-plus use cases for quantum computing. Among the more intriguing are:

  • Financial Services – "Quantum computing shows promise in helping to determine attractive portfolios given thousands of assets with interconnecting dependencies."

  • Healthcare – "Quantum computing
    may "[advance] drug design to the point of providing personalized prescription drugs for
    individual patients."7

On a larger scale, Microsoft believes that quantum computers can one day:

  • "[Address] world hunger – With the aid of quantum computers,
    chemists can work to identify a new catalyst for fertilizer to help reduce
    greenhouse emissions and improve global food production.

  • "[Reduce] energy loss – One potential quantum computing
    application is the development of high-temperature superconductors which
    could enable lossless transmission of energy.

  • "[Solve] optimization problems in machine learning – For example,
    large factories aiming to maximize output require optimization of each
    individual process, as well as all participating components. Quantum
    computers can help deliver optimization insights for streamlined output,
    reduced waste, and lowered costs."8

D-Wave 2000Q

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As of this writing, the world’s only commercial supplier of quantum computers
is D-Wave Systems. The company’s customer list includes Lockheed Martin,
Google, NASA Ames, the University of Southern California, and Los Alamos
National Laboratory.

D-Wave’s signature system, the D-Wave 2000Q, operates near absolute zero
which, along with shielding, enables the system’s Quantum Processing Unit (QPU)
to behave "quantum mechanically."

According to the manufacturer, "The D-Wave QPU [see Figure 1] is built from a lattice of tiny loops of the metal niobium, each of which is one qubit. Below temperatures of 9.2
Kelvin, niobium becomes a superconductor and exhibits quantum mechanical effects. When in a quantum state, current flows in both directions simultaneously, which means that the qubit is in superposition
– that is, in both a 0 and a 1 state at the same time. At the end of the problem-solving process, this superposition collapses into one of the two classical states, 0 or 1."

Figure 1. D-Wave Quantum Processing Unit

Figure 1. D-Wave Quantum Processing Unit

Source: D-Wave Systems9

Evincing its versatility, the D-Wave 2000Q can solve problems in a wide
variety of disciplines, as detailed in Table 2.

Table 2. D-Wave 2000Q Applications

Machine Learning & Computer Science

Financial Modeling

Security &
Mission Planning

Healthcare & Medicine

  • Detecting statistical anomalies

  • Finding compressed models

  • Recognizing images and patterns

  • Training neural networks

  • Verifying and validating software

  • Classifying unstructured data

  • Diagnosing circuit faults

  • Detecting market instabilities

  • Developing trading strategies

  • Optimizing trading trajectories

  • Optimizing asset pricing and hedging

  • Optimizing portfolios

  • Detecting computer viruses & network intrusion

  • Scheduling resources and optimal paths

  • Determining set membership

  • Analyzing graph properties

  • Factoring integers

  • Detecting fraud

  • Generating targeted cancer drug therapies

  • Optimizing radiotherapy treatments

  • Creating protein models

The D-Wave 2000Q can be integrated into standard data centers, high-performance computing
environments, as well as private and public clouds.

The Future

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Hybrid Conventional-Quantum Computing Environments

Just as modern cloud environments feature a mixture of public and private
clouds, future processing environments will combine classical, i.e.,
microprocessor-based, CPUs with quantum-based QPUs.

Public-Private Sector Quantum Investment

Propelled by public and
private interests, including the intersection of quantum computing and
artificial intelligence, quantum R&D is poised to explode.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has signed a
cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with SRI International to
lead a consortium focused on quantum science and engineering. The Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QEDC) aims to expand US leadership
in global quantum research and development and the emerging quantum industry in
computing, communications and sensing.

With funding from both the government and private-sector member organizations,
the QEDC will:

  • Determine
    workforce needs essential to the development of quantum technologies;

  • Provide
    efficient public-private sector coordination;

  • Identify
    technology solutions for filling gaps in research or infrastructure;

  • Highlight
    use cases and grand challenges to accelerate development efforts; and

  • Foster
    sharing of intellectual property, efficient supply chains, technology
    forecasting and quantum literacy.

Enterprise Preparation for Quantum Computing

To avoid being caught technologically flatfooted,
particularly since the pace of quantum research has accelerated, many, if
not most, enterprises will soon commence quantum planning. To that end,
IBM recommends the following five-step process.

  1. "Designate some of your leading professionals as ‘quantum champions.’
    – Charge your quantum champions with understanding quantum computing, its
    potential impact on your industry, how your competitors are responding, and
    how your business might benefit.

  2. "Begin identifying quantum computing use cases and associated value propositions.
    – Evaluate opportunities based on the unique capabilities of quantum systems and their ability to accelerate advantage.

  3. "Experiment with real quantum systems. – Demystify quantum computing by trying out a real quantum computer. Have your quantum champions get a sense for how quantum computing may solve your business problems and interface with your existing tools.

  4. "Chart your quantum course. – Construct a quantum computing roadmap, including viable next steps, with the purpose of pursuing problems that could create formidable competitive barriers and sustainable business advantage.

  5. "Be flexible about your quantum future. – Quantum computing is rapidly evolving. Seek out technologies and development toolkits that are becoming the industry standard and around which ecosystems are coalescing."10


"Quantum Computing 101." Institute for Quantum Computing, University of

2 Marc Carrel-Billiard, Dan Garrison, and Carl Dukatz. "Think
Beyond Ones and Zeros: Quantum Computing Now." Accenture. 2017:6.

3 Ibid. p.5.

4 Ibid. p.3.

5 Mikhail Dyakonov. "The Case Against Quantum Computing." IEEE
Spectrum. November 15, 2018.

6 Scott Fulton III. "What a Quantum Computer Is, and Why It Needs to
Be More."
CBS Interactive. November 12, 2018.

7 Marc Carrel-Billiard, Dan Garrison, and Carl Dukatz. "Think Beyond Ones and
Zeros: Quantum Computing Now." Accenture. 2017:10-11.

8 "Quantum Computing Applications for Innovation and Impact."
Microsoft. 2018.

9 "The D-Wave 2000Q Quantum Computer: Technology Overview." D-Wave Systems Inc.

10 Dr. Dario Gil, Jesus Mantas, Dr. Robert Sutor, Lynn Kesterson-Townes,
Dr. Frederick Flother, and Chris Schnabel. "Coming Soon to Your Business –
Quantum Computing: Five Strategies to Prepare for the Paradigm-Shifting
Technology." IBM Corporation. 2018:12-13.

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About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst and

business writer with more than 30 years’ IT experience. A member of

"Who’s Who in Finance and Industry," Mr. Barr has designed,

developed, and deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune

500 firms. He is the author of several books, including How to

Succeed in Business BY Really Trying, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory

Panel, and a senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management

Practices. Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at jgbarr@faulkner.com.

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