Businesses brace for quantum computing disruption by end of decade

As one expert warns overhype will lead to QC winter. Plus: Mystery Huawei quantum patent surfaces

While business leaders expect quantum computing to play a significant role in industry by 2030, some experts don't believe the tech is going to be ready for production deployment in the near future.

The findings, from a survey titled "2022 Quantum Readiness" commissioned by consultancy EY, refer to UK businesses, although it is likely that the conclusions are equally applicable to global organizations.

According to EY, 81 percent of senior UK executives expect quantum computing to have a significant impact in their industry within seven and a half years, with almost half (48 percent) believing that quantum technology will begin to transform industries as soon as 2025.

Overhype might be a problem

As for the naysayers who say quantum tech won't be ready for live deployment any time soon, the industry also suffers from a hype problem, with capabilities being exaggerated and even some accusations flying around of alleged falsification, as with the example of quantum startup IonQ that was recently accused by Scorpion Capital of misleading investors about the effectiveness of its quantum hardware.

Joseph Reger, Fujitsu Fellow, CTO of Central and Eastern Europe and Member of Quantum Computing Council of World Economic Forum, told The Register he is getting some "heat" for saying quantum is not nearly a thing yet.

"There are impressive advantages that pre-quantum or quantum-inspired technologies provide. They are less sexy, but very powerful."

He added: "Some companies are exaggerating the time scales. If quantum computing gets overhyped, we are likely to face the first quantum winter."

Fujitsu is itself developing quantum systems, and announced earlier this year that it was working to integrate quantum computing with traditional HPC technology. The company also unveiled a high performance quantum simulator based on its PRIMEHPC FX 700 systems that it said will serve as an important bridge towards the development of quantum computing applications in future.

Strategic planning

Meanwhile, EY claims that respondents were "almost unanimous" in their belief that quantum computing will create a moderate or high level of disruption for their own organization, industry sector, and the broader economy in the next five years.

Despite this, the survey finds that strategic planning for quantum computing is still at an embryonic stage for most organizations, with only 33 percent involved in strategic planning for how quantum will affect them and only a quarter have appointed specialist leaders or set up pilot teams.

The survey conducted in February-March 2022 covered 501 UK-based executives, all with senior roles in their organisations, who had to demonstrate at least a moderate (but preferably a high) level of understanding of quantum computing. EY said they originally approached 1,516 executives, but only 501 met this requirement, which in and of itself tells a tale.

EY's Quantum Computing Leader, Piers Clinton-Tarestad, said the survey reveals a disconnect between the pace at which some industry leaders expect quantum to start affecting business and their preparedness for those impacts.

"Maximizing the potential of quantum technologies will require early planning to build responsive and adaptable organisational capabilities," he said, adding that this is a challenge because the progress of quantum has accelerated, but it is "not following a steady trajectory."

For example, companies with quantum processors have increased the power of their hardware dramatically over the past several years, from just a handful of qubits to over a hundred in the case of IBM, which expects to deliver a 4,158-qubit system by 2025. Yet despite these advances, quantum computers remain a curiosity, with most operational systems deployed in research laboratories or made available via a cloud service for developers to experiment with.

Clinton-Tarestad said "quantum readiness" is "not so much a gap to be assessed as a road to be walked," with the next steps in the process being regularly revisited as the landscape evolves. He warned businesses that expect to see disruption in their industry within the next three or five years need to act now.

According to EY's report, executives in consumer and retail markets are those most likely to believe that quantum will play a significant role by 2025, with just over half of technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) executives expecting an impact within the same time frame. Most respondents among health and life sciences companies think this is more likely to happen later, between 2026 and 2035.

Most organizations surveyed expect to start their quantum preparations within the next two years, with 72 percent aiming to start by 2024.

However, only a quarter of organizations have got as far as recruiting people with the necessary skills to lead quantum computing efforts, although 68 percent said they are aiming to set up pilot teams to explore the potential of quantum for their business by 2024.

Fear of falling behind because rival companies are working to develop their own quantum capabilities is driving some respondents to start quantum projects, while the applications of quantum computing anticipated by industry leaders would advance operations involving AI and machine learning, especially among financial services, automotive and manufacturing companies. TMT respondents cited potential applications in cryptography and encryption as being the most likely use of quantum computing.

Why start now?

While the EY report warns about companies potentially losing out to rivals on the benefits of quantum computing, there are also dangers that organizations should be preparing for now, as Intel warned about during its Intel Vision conference last month.

One of these is that quantum computers could be used to break current cryptographic algorithms, meaning that the confidentiality of both personal and enterprise data could be at risk. This is not a far-off threat, but something that organizations need to consider right now, according to Sridhar Iyengar, VP of Intel Labs and Director of Security and Privacy Research.

"Adversaries could be harvesting encrypted data right now, so that they can decrypt it later when quantum computers are available. This could be sensitive data, such as your social security number or health records, which are required to be protected for a long period of time," Iyengar told us.

Organizations may want to address threats like this by taking steps such as evaluating post-quantum cryptography algorithms and increasing the key sizes for current crypto algorithms like AES.

Or they may simply decide to adopt a wait and see attitude. EY will no doubt be on hand to sell consultancy services to help clarify their thinking. ®

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