In the 21st century, significant advances in science and technology no longer function as a mere optional aide to businesses. In fact, we have never seen a more fulfilled integration between academia, the tech industry, and all kinds of businesses. The internet, paired with the rise of the contract workforce, means that corporate boardrooms and SME owners are not waiting years to harvest the findings of specialized developers. In a lot of cases, they are the developers themselves. This all implies an expectation for a business owner to stay informed on these developments in order to stay relevant. So, in a time where artificial intelligence and data analytics are all the rave in retail and beyond, I’m here to tell you that we’re already at the dawn of the next big thing: quantum computers! So, what are they? And why should you start keeping up with them?
Let’s start with what we know. Traditional (classical) computers run on basic units called transistors. A transistor is an electrical component which can be switched on (state “1”) or off (state “0”). When viewing these states at the software level, we call them “bits”. The more transistors we can put in a classical computer, the more processing power we say it has. We’ve really come a long way in that regard! But we’re finally beginning to see the limits of just how many transistors we can fit in a given area. The problems we need to solve, though, are getting more and more complex. For instance, the amount of data that businesses are expecting to process is only getting larger – and the level of analysis they want to conduct to stay competitive is quickly expanding as well. Businesses are adding more and more variables to consider when targeting customer experiences, and are thus exhausting how much we can do with a classical machine, even with the advent of cloud computing. This is where quantum computers come in. They are the result of an overall motivation in all fields to move away from these machines into a new principle of computing.
While classical computers use transistors to produce bits, quantum computers use different subatomic phenomena to produce their states known as qubits. Simply put, quantum computers operate on a completely different principle of states, allowing for higher complexity when it comes to what data they can store. Does that necessarily give us a more meaningfully-useful machine? Nope! Or at least not yet. But for certain applications, such as cyber security and data analytics, we can already foresee what quantum computers will do for us.
Where Does the Magic Lie?
It is all in the simple fact that they can factor huge numbers. In fact, they can crunch numbers we’ve only ever been able to conceptualize before. The biggest result here is in terms of encryption, leading to stronger-than-ever internet security for everyone. The first result of quantum computing is a concern. That is, they will be able to crack the current system of encryption we use for financial data. But in the same breath, they’re expected to become the enablers of a new era of cryptology for that exact same purpose. On the other hand, when it comes to data, quantum computers will be able to run simultaneous processes faster than ever. In fact, they’ll be able to produce fully-predictive probabilistic models for any business.
So far, you might employ artificial intelligence to predict your customer’s behavior based on their own past data, and perhaps give them a loyalty offer accordingly. Well, there will be a machine capable of associating these patterns together from completely random groups of people. Then, it will untangle the patterns to create the most individualized experience ever for your customer. That is, this personalization approach is going to be more accurate and more lucrative than ever. This doesn’t just stop there, these machines can process whole businesses too, helping you make business decisions in a way that is comparative to your own historical behavior as well as that of your peers. You might think that, conceptually, the contemporary field of artificial intelligence is capable of tackling these problems. But we’re at a point in history where the hardware can’t keep up with the demands, so the gear shift in this case is important, at least with cyber security and data analytics.
Out With the Old, In With the New
It’s important to note that quantum computers are not the “next generation” of computers, they are completely different machines in structure, programming, and (futuristically) user experience. In that sense, we’re at the dawn of a complete technological shift with its own skills and problem set. So buckle up, and enjoy the quantum ride!