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How quantum technology will change the way we work and play

Cutting-edge research is bringing quantum technology deeper into our daily lives

2021.09.23

A quantum computing arms race is on in Asia - but what does that mean for the way we work and live today?

Quantum technology has, very quietly, moved out of the realm of science fiction and into our daily lives.

Its principles already underlie most of our day-to-day interactions; the GPS in your car and the MRI machines in the hospital already take certain aspects of quantum mechanics into account. The advent of new technologies will tap quantum physics in even deeper ways.

In the past decade, progress in this field saw a remarkable acceleration in terms of research and development, real-world applications, and even investor funding. As of 2021, there are 100 quantum computing companies around the world, and several countries have pledged a combined amount of US$23 billion to support national quantum initiatives. This signals not just faith in new technologies but also a belief in the field’s long-term viability.

Advancements in related technologies helped spur this acceleration. Improved cooling technologies, for instance, have made it possible to build more powerful quantum computers, which work more efficiently in temperatures close to absolute zero.

In Asia, a “quantum computing arms race” is in full swing, with companies like Alibaba already investing in quantum technology.

The government of Singapore is also making a big quantum push. It is investing in quantum research through the Centre for Quantum Technology and supporting the development of quantum devices and solutions via its Quantum Engineering Programme (QEP).  QEP is hosted by the National University of Singapore, and is working on translating quantum science into solutions for real-world problems. Among the Centre's focus areas are quantum communication and security, quantum computing and processors, and quantum sensors. The IMDA Cyber Security Technology Roadmap also identified quantum technologies—quantum key distribution, in particular—as one of the cyber technologies important to the country’s digital ecosystem.

But what exactly is quantum technology and how will it change our lives?

What is quantum technology?

A cyborg hand and a human hand holding quantum computing concept with Qubit and Quantum Universe acronyms with 3D rendering

Simply put, quantum technology makes use of the principles of quantum mechanics: a branch of physics that studies the behaviour of particles at the atomic and subatomic levels. Think of it as zooming into the smallest components of the physical world—a level where the world looks like it’s behaving contrary to the principles of classical mechanics.

In place of the laws of motion and gravity that most people are familiar with, quantum mechanics has core concepts like entanglement—which states that particles separated by a great distance can be dependent on each other and “sense” the other’s condition—and superposition—which posits that particles can be in two quantum states simultaneously.

There are four main types of quantum technology:

  • Quantum computing uses quantum phenomena to process information in new ways that may be faster or more powerful than how conventional (binary) computers do it.
  • Quantum communication investigates ways to make communication secure and tamper-proof;  this offers the ability to launch a quantum internet, which goes beyond point-to-point security and enables the exchange of quantum signals between quantum computers, sensors, and all kinds of devices.
  • Quantum sensing works to improve the accuracy and sensitivity of sensors.
  • Quantum simulation enables the modelling of complex systems, reducing the amount of resources spent on trial-and-error experimentation.

Strides in quantum technology have far-reaching implications in business, medicine, financial services, manufacturing, and many other industries. Here are four ways that developments in this area may change how we live.

1. Secure, eavesdropping-proof communication

Cybersecurity has become one of the biggest threats in our hyper-connected digital world. In 2020, 81% of organisations in Asia Pacific surveyed said they suffered a cyberattack, and 86% believe they may suffer more breaches in the next 12 months.

Data encryption is one way to make communication more secure. However, even when data is encrypted, it can still be susceptible to hacking, as public-key cryptography protocols are based on mathematical algorithms that might be broken by new techniques or more powerful computers in the future. 

This is where quantum technologies come in.

Quantum key distribution (QKD) uses quantum mechanics to encrypt information. It is a way for communicating parties to privately share secret keys, which are vital to cryptographic protocols. It leverages a key characteristic of quantum systems: the mere act of “looking” at a quantum system changes it, which means that any attempt to intercept a QKD-secured line of communication cannot go unnoticed. 

First proposed in the 1980s and made commercially available in the early 2000s, QKD now spans various protocols and security applications. These technologies are constantly evolving, with universities and industries around the world teaming up to find viable QKD-enabled solutions.

Four representatives, two from QEP and NUS, and two from T-Systems, facing the camera for a group photo

From left: Michael Kasper, co-coordinator for QEP's quantum network plans and Head of AI- and Cyber-Security Department, Fraunhofer Singapore; Alexander Ling, Director of the QEP and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore; Arkadiusz Czopor, Managing Director of T-Systems Singapore and Ricky Ng, Director Regional Cyber Security of T-Systems Singapore.

In Singapore, T-Systems has partnered with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and its Quantum Engineering Programme (QEP), which is working on quantum security and communication solutions as one of its focus areas. 

The collaboration includes bolstering test and evaluation capabilities for quantum security technologies, as well as participation in proof of concepts, trials, and testbeds for QKD and other quantum communication and security advancements. T-Systems will collaborate in certification activities to facilitate the approval and deployment of the QKD systems.

2. Faster, smarter enterprises

3D illustration of quantum computer

One thing quantum computers are better at than classical computers is quickly performing complex calculations. 

For instance, for a calculation with 16 possible outcomes, quantum computers will be able to simulate each of the 16 outcomes simultaneously, whereas classical computers can only run through them one at a time.

This is because classical computers rely on bits, which are represented as a binary and can only be either one or zero at any given time. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits, which can be both one and zero at the same time, thanks to the principle of superposition. This is what makes quantum computers so much faster than classical computers.

For some businesses, this could potentially cut down on the time it takes to solve complex problems or make critical decisions, and could pave the way for deeper insight based on bigger data sets. Keep in mind, however, that exponential speed increases have so far been documented in very few and only very specific problems.

3. Enhanced security for financial institutions

A hand touches a holographic screen displaying the text “banking” and other banking iconography

Banks and financial institutions can win big from deploying quantum technologies. For instance, the increase in computing power could allow financial services to make more precise estimates of credit exposures (for loan and bond portfolios) and smarter capital allocation across corporate finance activities through sharper risk insights.

Quantum communications can also help secure financial institutions’ data. Already, several banks are exploring quantum solutions to security and optimisation issues. Goldman Sachs is looking at how quantum computing can do rapid risk evaluation and price simulations for various financial instruments, while HSBC is investigating how the technology could improve risk analytics and cybersecurity.

4. More efficient supply chains

Internet and retail-related icons, superimposed over a photo of a warehouse full of boxes

Supply chains also stand to benefit from the novel ways that quantum computers process enormous amounts of information.  In the future, this could help companies meet their customers’ requirements while making their supply chains more efficient, productive, and resilient to disruptions. These could then lead to cost savings for the company.

Quantum computers could help organisations optimise their transportation operations and identify the best locations for plants, logistics hubs, and distribution facilities. These can also improve warehouse management and distribution, optimising shipping loads and warehouse arrangements. Inbound logistics, or the delivery of raw materials to production sites, could also be made more efficient and productive by leveraging the immense computing and analytical power of quantum technologies.
 

Solving today’s problems using quantum means

3D illustration of a computer processor surrounded by a plane, a ship, and several trucks

To be sure, quantum computers are still a work in progress. Existing devices are small, in terms of number of qubits, and prone to errors. Much of the larger business impacts would only come to life when bigger, less noisy computers become available. 

But even if it may be a while before quantum computers become commercially scalable, quantum technology is already bringing value to many different aspects of modern life. 

Quantum communication technology, for instance, is one field where the transformative power of quantum is yielding real-world results now. T-Systems has been pushing the boundaries of quantum communications and will continue to do so through our partnership with NUS.

Learn more about T-Systems and how we’re helping enterprises become future-ready here.

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