What Is Quantum Technology?

Before quantum computing becomes the blockchain of 2019, I wanted to level set with a few facts about quantum anything, and what businesses should do this year.

Meet the Quantum Family

Lost in the quantum computing buzz is that it’s just one of a quartet of disciplines under the umbrella of quantum technology. The other three are quantum communication, sensing and simulation. Transformational promises across each area are bold, yet entirely unfulfilled. Translation: It’s the perfect time to define quantum and its potential business benefits.

Quantum Theory Takes Subatomic View

Unless you happen to be a physics maven, chances are your eyes glaze over — I know the feeling — as soon as you hear words like entanglement and superposition. Those are two of the concepts underpinning quantum technology. Superposition holds that matter can simultaneously exist in more than one quantum state. Entanglement theory posits that particles become dependent on each other’s quantum states, behaving like single entities.

Okay, the physics lesson is over. In plain language, these capabilities are behind all those fear-based headlines about quantum computing making classical computers easy targets for hackers. There’s a positive side to that conversation though.

“Quantum entanglement is the basis for generating an alert to physical intrusion or eavesdropping on communication channels involving entangled photons,” said Bindu Madhavan, vice president of Systems Engineering and head of Explore for SAP Innovation Center Network in Palo Alto. “Based on what we know today, there’s no way for anyone to beat this fundamental mechanism that would prevent communicating parties from being alerted to intruders.”

Here’s a quick definition of the four main types of quantum technology.

Quantum Communication: Ostensibly Hack-Proof

An easy way to think about quantum communication is that it’s about data transmission. Quantum-based channels could help companies share more information with greater security. It’s also the foundation of what’s called the quantum internet.

“Quantum communication promises to deliver an additional layer of security. Even if information is intercepted, it would be difficult to impossible to decipher,” said Andrey Hoursanov, lead for Quantum Security at SAP.

Quantum Computing: Better, Faster Business Applications

While both classical and quantum computing are focused on data processing, the latter represents information as elements called qubits. Among quantum computing’s potential benefits is the ability to help business solve certain problems exponentially faster.

“Quantum computing is well suited for processes that can tax the limits of classical computing, like warehouse management and transportation logistics,” said Hoursanov. “Major automotive companies are already testing how quantum can streamline the delivery of multiple products to multiple locations. This is totally different from current navigation systems. With quantum, logistics providers hope to map optimal routes based on current traffic and shipments for every vehicle in real time — all at once.”

Quantum Sensing: More Data Powers Better Outcomes

Medical diagnostics is another area where quantum’s promise shines. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has always been based on quantum technology. The newest advancements in quantum sensing improve accuracy, giving physicians a clearer picture of the patient’s body. The technology extracts information from individual atoms, which is much more precise than just measuring a group of atoms.

Quantum Simulation: Boon to R&D

Scientists and researchers in industries like pharmaceuticals and chemistry are looking at quantum simulation to develop better products and save money.

“If you want to create a drug with special properties or predict how different components will interact and behave with specific results, quantum simulation could be less expensive and faster,” said Hoursanov. “Instead of experimental trial, error, and often happenstance discoveries, industries could predict results faster and with greater accuracy. Quantum simulation can model larger quantum systems compared to classical or even supercomputers.”

Where to Go From Here

Quantum technology can be hard to understand because it’s based on principles that explain the experimentally observed behavior of the microscopic world. These concepts are alien to the intuitions most of us derive from our daily experiences in the macroscopic world. That’s why it makes sense to learn as much as possible about it.

“Now is the time for companies to begin exploring quantum technology with their partners and other experts,” said Madhavan. “For example, SAP customers want to solve increasingly complex problems and generate results faster. We’re benchmarking classical versus quantum computers, looking at solving targeted business problems in areas like logistics, supply chain, and warehouse management. While preliminary results haven’t generated major outcomes, it’s the ideal time frame to collaborate on potential use cases, laying the groundwork for important future business opportunities.”

It’s early days, and industries face tremendous technical challenges getting quantum technology to live up to its promise. I’ll provide more quantum updates — including challenges, use cases, and progress — in the coming months.

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