The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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Quantum Computing- The next computing revolution

In a conference hosted by MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science in 1981, Richard Feynman proposed the concept of computers which would harness the strange characteristics of matter at the atomic level to perform calculations. Last year, IBM open-sourced its quantum computing network called the IBM Q- Experience to encourage researchers and enterprises to explore various possibilities of quantum computing. Other companies like Google, Microsoft and Intel are also in the race to build their own quantum computer to leverage its exceptional computing capabilities.

Quantum computing leverages quantum physics concepts where atomic and sub-atomic particles can inhabit multiple, mutually exclusive states at the same time (called superposition) and are inextricably linked to each other in perfect unison even if separated by great distance (called entanglement).

While classical computers usually take one of the two values, 0 or 1, a quantum computer can be in both 0 and 1 state at the same time. These fundamental units of information in quantum computing realm are termed as quantum bits or qubits. Because of these characteristic of being in two states at the same time, the computational capabilities of quantum computers increases exponentially.

With an ever increasing number of connected devices, the volume of data being generated is also increasing and classical computers are not able to process the whole spectrum of data in an efficient manner. Along with the growing data volumes, organizations are also struggling with safeguarding these sensitive and confidential information. While a conventional computer might take over 2000 years to decrypt the most sophisticated levels of encryption currently available, a quantum computer would be able to decrypt the same in a matter of weeks. This has generated growing interest among enterprises and government organizations to develop new encryption algorithms which would be withstand brute force attacks from quantum computers. One such development is the concept of Quantum Key Distribution that uses quantum technology as a mechanism to ensure data security and privacy. Apart from these, quantum computers can also help in undertaking various optimization calculations across industries like airline, manufacturing, retail etc.

Industries like financial services have complex business processes and are constantly facing data security threats, forcing organizations like Barclays, Goldman Sachs, J.P.Morgan to search for new alternatives. They have now become some of the early adopters of quantum computing technologies and are undertaking various experimentations in the field of portfolio optimization, fraud detection and data security. Apart from financial services organizations, other companies like Airbus and Volkswagen are also experimenting with quantum computers in the field of product design and supply chain optimization respectively.

Even though current applications of quantum computers are limited to solving intractable problem in areas of optimization, sampling and machine learning, further development in hardware and software technologies would enable quantum computers to solve global problems like food scarcity, weather pattern detection and resource optimization.

Market trends suggest that quantum computing has reached an inflection point- moving from theoretical research to commercial implementations. Even though an enterprise worthy quantum computer having computing capabilities of atleast 50 qubits is still 3-5 years away, companies have to rethink their strategies in line with these developments and draw out future roadmap accordingly. 

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