Disruptive Technology: Quantum Computing
Updated: May 9
Technological revolutions have the power to profoundly reshape our economies and societies. It is important to monitor these trends as they can cause great disruption in the workforce, create new riches and expand the total ability of society to produce. Highlighted below is one such technology that, once fully matured, will act as an inflection point and a platform for further growth.
Quantum computing is at an inflection point - moving from theoretical research to an engineering development and commercialization phase. The world economy is always in need of more computer power, as the amount of data produced and collected continues to grow exponentially. In the 20th century, the classical computer set the ground for much of the technological advancement since WWII. To imagine that NASA flew to the moon with the equivalent computing power of today’s cellphone is astonishing. The problem with the classic computer is that we are now starting to meet its limitations. Moore’s law, which dictates that computing power doubles, and price halves every 18 months, is beginning to slow due to natural limitations. Another limitation is how the classic computer works.
Quantum computing shines over classic computers when the assessed need requires sifting through extremely large amounts of data. For example, it was recently demonstrated by IBM and Raytheon that to sort a billion numbers a quantum computer would require 100 fewer steps than a traditional computer. The difference between the two is that while classic computing uses the laws of mathematics, quantum computers use the laws of physics. To search potential solutions to a problem, classic computers individually test different combinations, while quantum computers can test all combinations at once. Morgan Stanley’s research titled “Quantum computing - weird science or the next computing revolution?” summarized it well in saying:
“In layman’s terms, the classical binary computer is trying every possible combination, one by one, in a very orderly but slow manner, while the quantum computer quickly converges towards the right solution as if it was guessing the answer. This is a strong step towards artificial intelligence as the human brain would also start with an informed guess”.
Morgan Stanley’s report also predicts that it won’t be until 2020 that the technology will advance enough to make a difference. D-Wave, a leader in this space, and a Northland portfolio company, draws the analogy between quantum computing now and the internet in the 1970’s. The internet architecture hasn’t changed much in all these years, but until the search engine and e-mail appeared there wasn’t much use for it. Early applications for quantum computing are expected to be used in the chemistry and pharmaceutical industries, where scientists can decrease the time to discover new materials.
Each new industrial revolution created new sectors that birthed new billion-dollar companies. Technological disruptions are both risks and opportunities for sectors and companies. That said, today’s top technology companies, such as Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel and a handful of private companies have positioned themselves to lead this fourth industrial revolution and are unlikely to be displaced by new entrants. For example, for a company like Google, which is in the business of searching for information, developing this technology is a priority. The beautiful thing about quantum computing and artificial intelligence is that it works best in the background, without the end consumer really realizing its affect.
Innovation and productivity growth are alive and well - with the popularization of products such as Amazon Web Services, which rents computer power on the ’cloud’, quantum computing will soon be democratized and adapted to be accessible by anyone with coding knowledge. You need to ensure that you are ahead of the curve and prepare to take advantage of the next disruptive technology.