Quantum reality check

One day, all-powerful quantum computers will be used by rogue states and powerful crime syndicates to render all secure communications on the internet obsolete. Governments and major organisations regard this as an serious threat to the way they operate business transactions and ensure personally identifiable data of citizens and customers is kept safe and secure.

But, the idea of such powerful hardware does appear some way off. In his presentation at the recent Quantum.Tech Europe event that took place at Twickenham stadium, Muni Vinay Kamisetty, vice president and regional head of engineering, at Lazada, an Alibaba subsidiary, described the industry as at “the baby phase” of quantum computing. “Qubits are not stable; quantum capabilities are not up to the mark,” he said. “Honestly, we don’t have a practical quantum computing use case.”

Another analogy, eloquently put forward by Clemens Utschig-Utschig, chief technology officer at Boehringer Ingelheim, is that quantum computing is very much in the Stone Age of civilization. For Utschig-Utschig, the evolutionary stage of quantum computing is like when a Stone Age man came out of his cave and could see lightning strike a tree and set it alight, but had no way to control the flames and so got burnt.

Boehringer Ingelheim is a pharmaceutical firm that  believes quantum computing and technologies like AI and machine learning, will transform drug discovery and development. Since 2021, the company has collaborated with Google Quantum AI, researching and implementing cutting-edge use cases for quantum computing in pharmaceutical research focused on molecular dynamics simulations.

When he spoke to McKinsey about the research  in 2022, Utschig-Utschig said: “Even with the most advanced quantum algorithms, we end up taking more than three days, which, even if the hardware were available, is too long to be useful in any real-world pharmaceutical setting. So while we are convinced that this technology can change the ways we do discovery research, progress on quantum computing and industry applicability can be made only if academia and industry join forces.”

During his Quantum.Tech Europe presentation, Utschig-Utschig expanded on this, sayings that the research showed that over 1400 logically corrected qubits and 7.8bn gates would be needed for calculations based on an important pharma enzyme called P450, which is used to reduce the toxicity of drugs.

The use case is there; everything we put into our bodies can be deemed harmful. But the industry estimates that over 1000 physical qubits are required for every logical qubit.  To put this into perspective,  IBM’s public roadmap  shows a 4,158 physical qubit machine, is two years away.  From where we are today in quantum computing to where we need to be looks like a heck of a long journey.

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