Here Come the Qubits? What You Should Know About the Onset of Quantum Computing

“Nearly 5,000 patents were granted in [quantum computing] in 2022…approximately 1% more than 2021. By January 2024, the United States had authorized and issued an aggregate of nearly 16,000 patents in the area of quantum technology (37% of the global total).”

Quantum computingWhile artificial intelligence (AI) may occupy all the limelight from media, stock markets, large and small corporations, not to mention political figures, futurists and modernists know that the mainstreaming of quantum computing will enable the next real technology paradigm shift.

From its beginnings in the speculative musings of physicist Paul Benioff in 1980 to the groundbreaking algorithms of mathematician Peter Shor in 1994, quantum computing was a transformative discovery. However, it was not until Google’s establishment of a quantum hardware lab in 2014 that the theoretical promises began to materialize into practical applications. This marked the onset of a new era, where quantum experimentation became increasingly accessible, with IBM democratizing access to prototype processors and Google achieving “quantum advantage” over classical supercomputers in 2019.

What is quantum computing?

It is a technology for performing computations much faster than classical computing by using quantum-mechanical phenomena. Indeed, quantum computing can theoretically provide exponential performance improvement for some applications and to potentially enable completely new territories of computing. It has applications beyond computing, including communications and sensing.

How does quantum computing work?

While digital computers store and process information using bits, which can be either 0 or 1, quantum computers use qubits (quantum bits) that differ from these traditional bits. A qubit can be either an electron or proton, and unlike traditional bits, can also exist in superposition states, be subjected to incompatible measurements (or interference), and even be entangled with other quantum bits, rendering them much more powerful.

What has delayed the obsolescence of traditional computers and blocked the dominance of quantum computers?

To build a quantum computer or other quantum information technologies, we need to produce quantum objects that can act as qubits and be harnessed and controlled in physical systems. Therein lies the challenge, but scientists are quietly making progress.

While the theoretical potential of quantum computing was identified decades ago, it has only begun to be realized in recent years. An accelerating, high-stakes arms race is afoot in the private and public sectors to build quantum processors and circuits capable of solving exponentially complex problems, and a growing number of working systems are in progress. Quantum computing will likely lead to a paradigm shift as it unlocks advancements in several scientific fields.

What has the government done about it?

The United States adopted the National Quantum Initiative Act in December 2018 for the first time, giving the United States a plan for advancing quantum technology and quantum computing. The National Quantum Initiative, or NQI, provided an umbrella under which government agencies could develop and operate programs for improving the climate for quantum science and technology in the U.S., coordinated by the National Quantum Coordination Office, or NQCO. Agencies include the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST, the National Science Foundation or NSF, and the Department of Energy or DOE. These agencies have combined to establish the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, or QED-C, a consortium of industrial, academic, and governmental entities. Five years later, Congress and the President adopted a rare bipartisan bill to reauthorize the NQIA to further accelerate quantum research and development economic and national security of the United States, with needed funding and support.

Most recently, on  April 10, 2024, United States Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the “Defense Quantum Acceleration Act,” which would, among other provisions, establish a quantum advisor and a new center of excellence. The preeminence of quantum computing technology within national defense initiatives just got strategic. For example, quantum-encrypted information can not be secretly intercepted, because attempting to measure a quantum property changes it. Similarly, in the domain of navigation, while global positioning systems or GPS can be spoofed, quantum sensors can securely relay information about location. Quantum computers have the capability of processing information infinitely faster and more complex than traditional computers.

It’s still early days, but the quantum realm is heating up and rapidly evolving. While they currently face challenges such as size limitations, maintenance complexities, and error susceptibility compared to classical computers, experts envision a near-term future where quantum computing outperforms classical computing for specific tasks.

What is the potential impact of quantum technology on the U.S. economy?

Digital computers have been pivotal in information processing, but quantum computers offer a paradigm shift. With the capacity to tackle intricate statistical problems beyond current computational boundaries, quantum computing is a game changer. McKinsey projects it to contribute nearly $2.0 trillion in value by 2035. The industries most likely to see the earliest economic impact from quantum computing include automotive, chemicals, financial services, and life sciences.

A McKinsey study published in April 2024 also delves into various facets of the investment landscape within the Quantum Technology (Q.T.) sector:

  • Globally, the total announced government investment in 2023 was $42 billion, a 26% year-over-year increase.
  • While the Chinese government announced $15.3 billion in government spending for Q.T. in 2023, the U.S. government announced $3.8 billion, with Germany, the U.K., Korea, and India announcing significant new funding for quantum development.
  • Total cumultative global quantum startup investment increased 25% in 2023 to $8.5 billion into 367 startups (a 5% year-over-year increase).
  • Meanwhile, while government spending increased significantly in 2023, private sector spending fell off, with a 27% drop in startup investment (albeit less of a dropoff than the 38% decline in startup investment globally).
  • An intriguing revelation is that a substantial 68% of all Q.T. startup investments since 2001 materialized in the years 2021 and 2022. However, despite this influx of capital, the rate of startup creation within the Q.T. ecosystem decelerated, with 350 startups currently existing.
  • Investments were notably concentrated in startups that were five years old or older. This hints at investments favoring established entities rather than fostering novel ideas, a trend further corroborated by the concentration of attention on Series A and B startups in 2022.
  • The year 2022 witnessed significant milestones in terms of large-scale deals, with four of the top ten Q.T. investment deals since 2001 being sealed during this period.

Technological advancements in quantum computing have accelerated in recent years, enabling solutions to exceedingly complex problems beyond the capabilities of today’s most influential classical computers. Such advancements could revolutionize various sectors, such as the chemicals, life sciences, finance and mobility sectors. The industry is poised to revolutionize, with quantum computers presenting new frontiers for personalized medicine, allowing for more accurate diagnostics and targeted treatment options. In life sciences, it could accelerate drug discovery, enable personalized medicine through genomic targeting, and revolutionize pharmaceutical research and development. In financial services, it could optimize portfolio management and risk assessment, potentially creating $622 billion in value.

Agricultural advancements enabled by quantum computing could enhance crop optimization and resource efficiency, addressing food security and climate concerns. In the automotive sector, quantum computing offers avenues for optimizing R&D, supply chain management, and production processes, reducing costs, and enhancing efficiency. Similarly, quantum computing holds promise in revolutionizing chemical catalyst design, facilitating sustainable production processes, and mitigating environmental impacts.

Where is intellectual property being created in quantum technology?
Nearly 5,000 patents were granted in the area in 2022, the last period for which data is available, approximately 1% more than 2021. By January 2024, the United States had authorized and issued an aggregate of nearly 16,000 patents in the area of quantum technology (37% of the global total), Japan had over 8,600 (~20%), Germany just over 7,000, China almost at 7,000 with France closely behind. More notable perhaps are the numbers of patent applications filed globally, with the United States and China neck-and-neck at 30,099 and 28,593 as of January 2024. Strangely, and it’s worth thinking about why, granted patents decreased for the global top 10 players in 2021 and 2022.

The European Union has the highest number and concentration of Q.T. talent, per OECD data through 2021, with 113,000 graduates in QT-relevant fields, with India at 91,000 and China at 64,000 and the United States at 55,000. The number of universities with Q.T. programs increased 8.3% to 195, while those offering master’s degrees in Q.T. increased by 10% to 55.

What are the legal considerations implicated by commercial quantum technology?

Despite the endless possibilities, legal considerations are looming with the rise of commercial quantum computing. In order to embrace the potential changes brought by quantum computing, legal experts must grasp its foundational principles, capabilities, and ramifications to maneuver through regulatory landscapes, safeguarding intellectual property rights, and resolving disputes.

Cybersecurity: Data is protected by cryptography and the use of algorithms. With exponentially higher computing power, the beginning of commercial quantum computing will require quantum cryptography that cannot be hacked. From when quantum computing becomes available to hackers until quantum cryptography can achieve ubiquity, how will we keep our networks and data safe from cyber-criminals? Can quantum-resistant cryptography protect against this obvious risk?

Privacy: Commercial enterprises will need to adopt procurement policies and implement security protocols that enable compliance with the General Directive on Privacy Regulation in Europe, the China Data Protection Act, and similar legislation in the United States, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act and its progeny. Companies that form the nucleus of our infrastructure for telecommunications, energy, water, waste, health, banking, and other essential services will need extra protection. The consequences of failure are immeasurable. How will we protect the terabytes of additional personal information that quantum computers can collect, transmit, store, analyze, monetize, and use? Existing regulations do not contemplate the gargantuan amount of personal data that will be collected, and new, sensible policies will need to be contemplated and created before the technology exists.

Competition: In the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, we saw first-movers acquire dominant market positions. The public responded by developing legislation to allow the government to break up private enterprises. How will we protect the marketplace from being dominated by a first mover in commercial quantum computing to ensure that healthy competition continues to exist?

Blockchains and smart contracts: The proliferation of quantum computing capabilities should enable greater use of distributed ledgers or blockchains to automate supply chains and commercial and financial transactions. How will they be enabled and protected? Who will be responsible if they are compromised or lost?

Cloud computing: The cloud will be disrupted. Conventional, slower computers will become obsolete when quantum computers enter the data center. Who will have access to quantum cloud computing, and when? The quantum divide could replace the digital divide.

Artificial intelligence: What will happen if quantum computing enables quantum computers to use A.I. to make decisions about people and their lives? Who will be responsible if the computer makes an error, discriminates on some algorithmic bias (e.g., profiling), or makes decisions against sound public policies?

Legal system: Quantum computing will profoundly disrupt the legal system, as it imports large scale efficiencies and speeds to processes, surpassing the capabilities of human intelligence, including that of the very best lawyers. Eventually, as quantum computing is miniaturized and placed on handheld devices, we approach singularity and a paradigm shift so profound that our entire legal system may be turned on its head.

Big Potential, Big Concerns

Quantum computing embodies a future with possibilities akin to the pioneering spirit of space exploration. While classical computers retain prominence for many tasks, quantum computing offers unparalleled potential to tackle complex problems on an unprecedented scale, heralding a new era of innovation and discovery that fills us with hope and optimism. However, to fully capitalize on the potential of this tremendous technology, these kinds of legal concerns must be effectively addressed.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Author: perig76
Image ID: 241846620 

 

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