There seems to be more talk about quantum computing than there is knowledge. But, with the quantum computing market expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2030 — growing at a compound annual growth rate of 25% —it’s time for that to change. That’s why Mission Critical sat down with QCI’s CEO, Robert Liscouski, to find out a little more about the technology, how to use it, and what to expect from it.
Mission Critical: Can you give us a brief primer on quantum computing?
Liscouski: Quantum computing approaches accelerate the process of solving complex problems as they can handle large amounts of data while improving the quality of results. This is done by leveraging the principles of quantum physics. Quantum computing processes using multidimensional states don’t use binary bits [1's and 0's] like classical computers do. They use qubits, which reflect the way nature works, adapting their processing based on the overall situation. Qubits leverage capabilities like superposition (the ability to be in two different states at the same time) and entanglement (sharing states with other qubits to reflect changes across multiple situational variables).
Quantum computers simulate real-world scenarios in ways that classical computers can’t. They are capable of 3D processing to enable complex analysis of multidimensional problems. This is possible due to esoteric capabilities that exist in the quantum world that allow qubits to exist in more than one state and compare their states with each other (superposition). These features give quantum computers the power to investigate what happens in complex situations as variables change, simulating all related changes within the scenario at the same time. For example, if you have a problem that has 16 possible combinations to meet a constraint objective, the classical computer would have to check the validity of each option to see if it fits. With superposition on a quantum computer, you can check all 16 options simultaneously.
They’re more accurate than classical systems for complex computations, and they find all results that meet the relevant criteria. With advanced computations, diverse results ultimately lead to better problem-solving as they allow for iterations and optimization.
Mission Critical: Will quantum computers replace classical computers?
Liscouski: No, quantum computers will not replace classical computers, as the two are fundamentally designed to solve different types of problems. Classical computers, for example, do well at searching within data to find the best answer to a proposed problem. The challenge is that classical computers have to work through volumes and volumes of data in a serial fashion, reviewing large portions of data that often has no relevance to the problem. This is why certain problems that run classically may never be solved without quantum capabilities.
In reality, quantum computers will augment classical computers for the majority of the work they will do for the foreseeable future. Since quantum computers can’t yet scale to process our enormous real-world datasets, we still need classical systems to do the large-scale processing.
Since quantum computers do not use databases to move data (rather they ingest it, process it, and then dissolve it), we’ll still use classical systems for much of the processing work related to anything transactional, productivity, content, and more. Classical systems are not going away — they are critical business operations.
Mission Critical: Can you share some examples of the vertical industries and applications that will benefit from quantum computing?
Liscouski: Constrained optimization, or any problem looking to minimize certain constraints (time or money) while maximizing others (output or load size) is one example where quantum can shine. It has long been a powerful approach for solving an array of problems using applied mathematics to drive better business decisions. Quantum computing can provide significant value for constrained optimization, since these systems can simulate complex inter-relationships, and the impact of changes across these complex models. Many constrained optimization problems cannot be easily solved by classical systems alone. Quantum techniques are already changing this for some classical solutions.
Constrained optimization is prevalent across many industries, like transportation, logistics, retail, air travel, and manufacturing. Airlines, shipping, and transportation companies need to optimize their fleets to meet passenger and cargo needs against the constraints of their vehicles and routes. In the retail space, companies make packing decisions to maximize profit margins within the constraints of manufacturing or shelf space. More importantly, retail now has consumer demand for immediate availability and near-immediate delivery. Constrained optimization is the technique used to solve these complex and dynamic logistics problems.
Even outside these industries, most businesses make operational decisions with the goal of improving business outputs, like revenue or production. While quantum computing is a newer technology, early adopters looking to improve real-world applications via quantum-ready and hybrid quantum-classical techniques will help sponsor development and the eventual commercialization of pure play quantum systems in the future.
Mission Critical: Why is the U.S. government investing in quantum computing technology?
Liscouski: Quantum computing applications in the public sector can be used for advancements and large-scale simulations to solve the toughest problems the government faces. This includes research in areas from optimizing troop movement to military logistics and supply chain management. The government is investing in quantum computing so the U.S. stays competitively ahead of the rest of the world. Global focus on quantum computing continues to be a key driver of the U.S.’s interest in quantum computing, as the country does not want to be left behind.
As a country that is consistently at the forefront of innovation, research, and development, it’s important for the U.S. to properly research and invest in new innovative technology, especially something like quantum computing that has the potential to be a complete disruptor in areas that pertain to national security.
In order for the U.S. to maintain a strong position and be a leader in the emerging quantum computing space, the government needs to explore partnerships and real-world applications.
Mission Critical: Can you speak to some of the proposed government initiatives around the investments in quantum computing?
Liscouski: In 2018, the Trump administration signed the National Quantum Initiative Act to jumpstart U.S. investment in quantum research to improve overall understanding and capabilities in quantum computing for both economic and national security reasons.
The Endless Frontier Act was introduced in 2021 by the Biden administration and highlights 10 areas, including quantum computing, for research and development across basic and advanced technology sectors. The act is currently being voted upon by the House of Representatives, and, if it passes, there will be $10 billion invested in quantum computing research.
Mission Critical: What are some potential government and/or Department of Defense uses of quantum technology?
Liscouski: In addition to constrained optimization problems, the government and DoD work with graph-partitioning problems that have national security applications. Graphs can be run on quantum processor units (QPUs) that help partition the graphs more optimally, making it easier to get accurate results. These types of problems are currently too big to fit on existing quantum computers, meaning classical computing approaches used in tandem with quantum computing techniques lead to better results.
Mission Critical: What do Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and QCI hope to achieve with their cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA)?
Liscouski: The CRADA will help researchers at LANL solve complex graph-partitioning and constrained optimization problems. Through this process of using quantum and classical techniques, graphs will be more easily converted into a form that can be run against the D-Wave annealer, handing LANL a diverse yet accurate set of results for these complex computations. LANL is already seeing results by using a combination of quantum and classical techniques for its graph and optimization problems.
LANL has been at the forefront of quantum computing. It is one of the first organizations to have a D-Wave quantum annealing machine and has partnered with IBM and other systems for cloud access. The partnership with QCI was born from interest in seeing other applications of quantum computing to solve petasacle and exascale simulations that are so large they cannot be successfully solved on purely classical systems.
QCI is looking to further push the limits of quantum computing by working with LANL on real-world problems and applications of quantum and classical computing techniques. The hope is that through this CRADA, QCI is able to find real-world government applications of quantum computing and showcase the national security value the technology possesses.
This new partnership will allow teams at QCI and LANL to examine algorithms in a different way and enable them to use quantum mechanical effects. In some cases so far, the teams are already seeing better or comparable results for the graph and optimization problems being worked on running. The CRADA emphasizes classical and quantum approaches combined with existing high-performance computing systems.
Mission Critical: What are some examples of real-world quantum computing applications that LANL/QCI are exploring?
Liscouski: The type of graph problems QCI and LANL are working on have important applications for national security in the sense that they're ideal tools for finding connections applicable to the intelligence community.
Purely classical computational methods are unable to process the vast amounts of data in these problems, creating the potential for inefficiencies in investigations and intelligence initiatives. Through this CRADA, QCI and LANL are opening the door for new computational methods that will ultimately improve U.S. intelligence capabilities and national security.
Mission Critical: How will organizations in the defense and critical infrastructure space realize the benefits of quantum?
Liscouski: Quantum computing will give organizations within the critical infrastructure and defense spaces computational outcomes that are not achievable today with purely classical, binary computing techniques.