By Patricia Mirasol, Reporter 

What’s the next big thing in technology after artificial intelligence and the cloud? The nascent field of quantum computing. 

The aforementioned technology, which uses quantum mechanics to perform certain kinds of computation more efficiently than a regular computer, boosts speeds over a trillion times faster than an ordinary laptop.  

Real-life applications encompass improvements in fraud detection and healthcare therapeutics, according to Scott Crowder, vice-president of IBM Quantum Adoption and chief technology officer of IBM Systems.  

“One of the things quantum computing has proven to be better at is pulling patterns out of data…” he said at IBM’s Think event in Singapore. “For certain types of applications like fraud detection, having a small percentage improvement equals a lot of money for financial institutions. The same could be true for healthcare, and in determining whether something is going to be therapeutically good for you based on factors such as your age and DNA [deoxyribonucleic] profile.”  

A second area of interest is in simulating nature — as in chemical reactions, added Mr. Crowder. 

“There’s a lot of interest right now in electric vehicles and cleaner energy. Understanding better the chemistry underneath that, we can better predict what types of chemistries to explore,” he told the attendees of a June 2 media roundtable discussion. “It’s the same with corrosion [in planes and ships], and in understanding how better to build materials against it.”   

Inasmuch as the technology can be parlayed for multiple uses, there are factors to be considered for its adoption. One is the fact that quantum states called qubits are fragile and sensitive to the environment. In order to keep quantum computers stable, these need to be kept in an environment with minimal noise and at very low temperatures.  

Another is that quantum computing solves problems that lend themselves to quantum computing.  

Because quantum computing is a different way of processing information, “I wouldn’t say it’s more powerful [than classical computing]. It’s just powerful for particular kinds of math in a very different way,” Mr. Crowder said, explaining that a quantum computer won’t enable people to e-mail a billion times faster. What it can do, he said, is come up with a quantum algorithm that can explore a particular state space and then “clap it back down to a small number of bits.” 

“The value comes from those particular kinds of problems it can solve,” he added.  

Despite these, investments in the technology to harness its potential have been gathering speed.  

Singapore, for one, announced on May 31 a S$23.5 million investment to spur its quantum technology capabilities in solving challenges like cyber threats.  

The country’s deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat also announced on the same day the launch of the National Quantum Computing Hub, which will pool expertise and resources from the Center for Quantum Technologies and other institutions, and the National Quantum Fabless Foundry, which will develop the components needed to build quantum computers and devices.  

Other quantum computing initiatives around Asia include Japan’s plan to have its first homegrown quantum computer ready for use by March 2023 — “to keep up with the fierce global race for technological dominance,” per Nikkei Asia — as well as China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which incorporates quantum information technology among other frontier fields. 

IBM-specific initiatives, meanwhile, include the establishment of the IBM Quantum Computing Data Center at Yonsei University, Korea. The technology corporation also has a Quantum Network, which studies the technology’s practical applications across industries, and which encompasses member companies like Cleveland Clinic in the United States and Archer Minerals in Australia. 

“Quantum computing is kind of like sci-fi come to life,” Mr. Crowder said. “The reason why people are so excited about it is because when you add a qubit to a quantum processor, you double the number of states within a single operation by a factor two… that adds up really quickly. Two to the n gets to be a big number very, very fast.”