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July 21, 2023

Businesses must prepare for the quantum revolution

Companies should seize the opportunity to invest early in quantum security and sensing applications.

By Daniel Goldsmith

With new breakthroughs seemingly announced every passing day, it’s clear that industry expects quantum computing to bring about unprecedented advantages across a multitude of sectors. The investment community agrees.

Venture capital funding for quantum computing start-ups is soaring, and enthusiasm is being matched in governments around the world. The US, China and India are all pursuing their own quantum computing strategies. In the UK, meanwhile, the government recently announced £2.5bn in funding to advance research in this new and exotic frontier for computation. 

There is no doubt that a quantum revolution is on its way. What’s concerning, however, is that for the most part, British businesses remain unprepared for the dawn of quantum, risking their long-term success. At Digital Catapult, we are working hard to change the tide and ensure that the UK industry is ready to embrace quantum when the time comes. 

Quantum computing is expected to have a dramatic impact on financial services companies (Photo: Bartlomiej K. Wroblewski/Shutterstock)
Businesses should begin preparing now for a future where quantum computing is ubiquitous, advises Digital Catapult’s Daniel Goldsmith. (Photo by Bartlomiej K Wroblewski/Shutterstock)

Practical quantum computing 

To understand why businesses should prepare for the quantum revolution, it’s important to consider how quantum differs from classical computing. The most significant difference is that quantum computing uses ‘qubits’, which are the quantum equivalent of classical bits and can be in quantum “superposition” states of both “0” and “1” simultaneously. What does this mean? 

In short, parallel processing over many qubits in superposition means that quantum computers can evaluate multiple possibilities of an operation at once. As a result, quantum computers will carry out tasks that are impossible on classical computers, improving the capabilities of enterprise technology and yielding significant benefits to businesses of all sizes. 

Research and academia are increasingly focused on real-world business applications of quantum technology, with new use cases emerging every day. This is why Digital Catapult has established the Quantum Technology Access Programme (QTAP), funded by Innovate UK (ISCF), to help businesses better understand how quantum technology, particularly quantum computing, can be leveraged to improve their operations and increase their efficiency in the future. Companies must consider how they might benefit from quantum to succeed in an increasingly competitive business landscape.  

Our quantum future is also fraught with risk. In theory, quantum computers have the potential to break many of the encryption schemes we use today. This means that data encrypted today could be vulnerable to being unlocked and stolen in the future, a major concern for organisations that store sensitive data, such as banks and data centres. 

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There are two main ways to protect data from quantum computers. The first is to use quantum-safe encryption schemes, which are designed to be resistant to attack by quantum computers. The second is to use quantum key distribution (QKD), which is a method of sharing a secure key that cannot be intercepted. QKD is a more expensive option than quantum-safe encryption, but it provides an additional layer of security.

It is critical that organisations start planning now for how they will protect their data from quantum computers in the future. Those who fail to do so could face serious consequences in the form of data breaches and financial losses. Conversely, businesses that do prepare and invest in quantum-safe security now will be well-positioned to succeed in the future, gaining a competitive advantage over their peers.

A quantum computer.
Application areas that UK businesses should keep an eye on include quantum-secure encryption algorithms, quantum sensing and quantum timekeeping. (Photo by Bartlomiej K. Wroblewski/Shuterstock)

Quantum timekeeping and sensing

Another key business benefit of quantum comes in terms of timekeeping. Quantum clocks can be used to measure time with extreme accuracy. The accuracy goes far beyond the capabilities of traditional atomic clocks. Quantum clocks are immune to disruptions from the global network satellite systems (GNSS) used to distribute time around the world. This means that they are not affected by these disruptions, which makes them ideal for applications where accurate timing is essential.

Quantum sensors are also based on the use of qubits that can be used to detect very small changes in the environment, such as changes in gravity, acceleration and rotation. This makes them ideal for applications involving extremely sensitive measurements, like the detection of underground structures, brain functions and gas emissions. These technologies are based on the principles of quantum mechanics and have the potential to revolutionise industries such as telecommunications and healthcare. 

Companies need to be ‘quantum-ready’ to benefit from new products, services and a whole new way of doing business. The first step should be to gain executive-level sponsorship, ensuring appropriate buy-in at the senior level and avoiding turf wars in the bargain. The quantum journey is a voyage of discovery, with few reliable signposts, and an executive sponsor will need to be clear-headed to separate the hype from the opportunity while helping your business move forward with courage, vision and pragmatism. 

For more insight on how quantum computing could benefit your business, information about the QTAP programme is available here

Read more: Can immersive technology help to close the UK’s digital skills gap?

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