By Martin Laforest, PhD, Senior Product Manager and Quantum Technology Expert, ISARA Corporation
Published on April 17, 2019.
In the days after I resigned from my position as the senior manager of scientific outreach at the Institute for Quantum Computing to join ISARA Corporation, one esteemed colleague after another would offer me a farewell handshake and say, half jokingly, “So, you’ve finally decided to join the dark side?” The “dark side” is how academics teasingly refer to the private sector.
I had built a 15-year academic career out of passionately and relentlessly spreading the gospel of quantum technologies, teaching youngsters the subtleties of quantum mechanics, convincing governments to invest in this endeavour and attracting industry members to embark in this revolution. Why did I join a cybersecurity company? Yes, ISARA provides quantum-safe security solutions, but it’s not like we’re enabling the development of quantum computers, quantum sensors and other quantum technologies…or are we. In a sense, one could argue that without quantum-safe security, we might never benefit from quantum computing.
Let me explain that last statement.
Quantum technologies are poised to benefit our world for the better, from quantum-based diagnostic tools for personalized medicine, to quantum computers capable of solving the biggest scientific mysteries, and so much more. Here are 5 great examples of how key global industries will benefit and change tremendously when quantum technologies become a reality:
One of the most promising areas quantum computers will shine in is quantum simulations – something classical computers are notoriously inadequate for. Quantum simulations, as well as the development of quantum-enabled sensors and imagers, will play a central role in material science research and will greatly assist in the design of high-capacity batteries for electric vehicles. Quantum computers are also really good at optimization problems, an advantage which naturally lends itself to solving traffic flow problems. Companies like Daimler and Volkswagen are already investing in designing such algorithms to run on future quantum computers.
- Health Care
Sensors based on quantum-enhanced magnetic resonance are already in use for early cancer detection and to set boundaries of liposarcomas. This latter task was impossible to do, but now surgeons can remove tumours without risking cutting into nearby nervous tissue. Quantum simulations running on quantum computers and quantum-based 3D protein imaging could not only finally give us critical insight into the misfolding of some proteins – the root cause of diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s – but they would help us design the right molecules that would bind to these toxic proteins and make them harmless.
- Critical Infrastructures
Currently, the power grid loses between 10-15% of generated energy. The steel cables used for transport have electrical resistance, which means they convert electricity into heat and energy is lost. Wouldn’t it be great if we had materials that conduct electricity at no loss? The good news is these materials exist: they’re called superconductors. The bad news is the only one discovered works at extremely low temperatures (below -140° C, or -220° F). The truth of the matter is that we don’t fully understand how superconductors work, and to crack that enigma, we’ll need to perform large quantum simulations, a task perfectly suited for quantum computers.
As I mentioned before, quantum computers are really great at optimization problems. Large investment banks like JPMorgan Chase and Barclays are already working on developing algorithms for portfolio and high-frequency trading optimization. Quantum computers are also known to be useful for some machine learning and big data tasks, which can be applied to fraud detection and modelling of the stock market.
These first 4 examples are known opportunities offered by quantum technologies. But, like any powerful technology, these benefits also come with negative disruptions, and my final example is well-known and certainly not insignificant:
When a large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computer exists, all of the current public key based information security will become obsolete and completely vulnerable. This includes over-the-air software updates to the Internet of Things (IoT) and other durable, in-field devices, and public key infrastructure (PKI) dependent-systems (digital signatures, key establishment, and code signing).
Some of the industries I mentioned that could benefit the most are also the most security-sensitive industries and will be negatively impacted if they don’t take the quantum threat seriously and in a timely manner. Many are already vulnerable to “harvest and decrypt” attacks that will compromise secure data as soon as a quantum computer is available, and others deal with cryptographic tools that need to be secure for many years.
And this is why I joined ISARA last year: Because I personally want the impact of quantum technologies to be positive to the world, and the only way this will happen is if we ensure that the negative impacts are minimized as much as possible. We must start by deploying quantum-safe security solutions now, and I believe ISARA is best positioned to make it happen. The changes to come will be a rocky road for many industries, but this is where I want to be: putting my past experiences in science promotion and outreach to help them get ready to be positively impacted by the quantum age.
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