With significant engineering challenges yet to be overcome, it might be years before we see a large-scale fully functioning quantum computer. However, Rotman professors Francesco Bova and Avi Goldfarb know that it’s not too soon to be thinking about quantum.
Francesco Bova, Associate Professor of Accounting
“There’s a long-term benefit, in that a lot of these companies that are experimenting with quantum now will be quantum ready. They’ll be prepared when these computers are sufficiently coherent,” explains Bova, an associate professor in Accounting and the academic lead and lab economist for the Creative Destructive Lab’s Quantum Stream.
“There's also a short-term benefit. For example, companies that have begun to develop or use quantum-inspired algorithms now have a clear advantage.”
Bova, Goldfarb and Roger Melko, the scientific lead for the CDL Quantum Stream and a professor with the University of Waterloo, were inspired by their experiences working with quantum startups in the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL). In their recent EPJ Quantum Technology paper, the three consider a future with quantum, including its potential for transforming the life sciences, finance and manufacturing sectors. And they make note of how companies are already taking advantage of quantum hardware.
“Advances in quantum technologies have already made previously unsolvable problems more tractable.”
—Francesco Bova, Associate Professor of Accounting
“The first applications for quantum computing are going to be in solving standard combinatory arithmetic problems. This will be a big deal for finance, cybersecurity, new material discovery and logistics,” explains Goldfarb, the Rotman Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare and the CDL’s chief data scientist. “We’ll be able to solve a lot of important problems.”
What exactly is so exciting about quantum computers?
Generally, large-scale fully functioning quantum computers — which engineers all over the world are striving to build now — will take advantage of quantum mechanics to execute calculations exponentially faster than classical computers.
This is exciting given that many of the problems that industries are tackling right now are essentially combinatory arithmetic problems (problems that require finding ideal combinations). Quantum computing has the potential to drastically cut down on the time it takes to go through the possible permutations to identify those perfect combinations — and this could lead to several potentially life-changing applications.
Avi Goldfarb, Rotman Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare
Just think about chemical engineering. Rather than hunt for a new wonder drug in nature, scientists could be more efficient with the R&D process by using quantum computing to mine through a collection of possibilities to identify a set of new, promising molecular compounds.
Quantum will definitely come in handy in finance, making it possible to optimize and design an ideal investment portfolio. In fact, Multiverse Computing, which graduated from the CDL program, uses hybrid models and quantum-inspired algorithms to solve complex financial problems like these ones.
“We’re seeing new methods that can go through all the possible combinations of investments one could hold over time, while factoring in constraints like minimum holding periods to come up with the best options,” says Bova. “Advances in quantum technologies have already made previously unsolvable problems more tractable.”
“Quantum computing’s potential impact is too big to ignore. It’s worth thinking about and supporting right now.”
—Avi Goldfarb, Rotman Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare
At the same time, quantum could leave our existing systems and security measures much more vulnerable.
“Quantum computers have the potential to make a lot of our current encryption techniques very breakable, and that is something to worry about today,” explains Goldfarb. “Chances are that most of the information companies are keeping secret now, they’ll want to remain confidential years from now.”
It’s no surprise why so many companies are engaging with startups like KETS Quantum Security, another graduate of the CDL program, which develops quantum-safe security solutions.
The two note that Canada has gained a lead in the quantum space, and that the Toronto-Waterloo corridor has already become an important centre for research and innovation.
It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.
“While it’s not clear exactly when these machines will be available and if they’ll be able to operate at the speeds we envision, quantum computing’s potential impact is too big to ignore. It’s worth thinking about and supporting right now,” explains Goldfarb.
“As combinatory arithmetic gets cheaper and cheaper, were going to realize all sorts of new applications, and that’s where the impact will be, at this point, unimaginable. It’s going to be big.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Rotman Insights »