Quantum Leaps: An Industry-by-Industry Look at the Potential of Quantum Computing

Woman working in a quantum computing industry

In a recent post, we took a detailed look at quantum computing and its transformative potential. The concept of computing done by subatomic particles is fascinating, and also perhaps a little hard to grasp in terms of how this technological leap might play out in the real world.

How will quantum computing actually change things where the qubits meet the road? Here’s a look at its potential for five major sectors:

Healthcare: Nearly every discussion about the potential of quantum computing leads off with healthcare as the area where it might make the most difference. Specifically, the ability to effectively simulate chemical reactions (recently accomplished by Google) could dramatically shorten development time for new drugs and vaccines. Months or years of lab work could theoretically be replaced by calculations done in minutes in quantum computing.

Getting a little further into the weeds, quantum should excel at processor-intensive tasks like genome sequencing and protein folding. Imagine individually tailored medical treatment plans based in part on genomic analysis and you begin to grasp the possibilities.

Government: Quantum computing’s future impact on government ventures centers on security, and the upshot is likely to be a new sort of arms race. Governments are investing heavily in quantum because it’s expected to be able to penetrate even the most sophisticated encryption techniques. Obviously, that’s a double-edged sword that will also require new ways to protect sensitive data. Both the promise and the threat of quantum from a national security standpoint are very real.

Quantum can also make big differences in much more prosaic pursuits. Consider the fuel and time savings derived from optimizing schedules and routes for garbage pickup or emergency vehicles, an enhanced ability to coordinate resources in the wake of a major natural disaster, or even the ability to predict the timing and location of those disasters, reducing their impact on lives and property.

Financial: The world of finance depends on sophisticated models that project the probabilities of certain outcomes. Financial institutions are investing heavily in quantum computing in the expectation of greatly improved speed and accuracy from these models, the ultimate goals being better analysis and understanding of market signals and more resilient portfolios.

Quantum will contribute on the customer-facing side of finance as well, allowing companies to offer ever more personalized products and services, and improving vastly on today’s highly inaccurate fraud detection systems.

Education: If you’ve noticed a trend here in quantum’s projected abilities to tailor offerings to the individual, it’s not hard to imagine its impact in education. Curricula and teaching methods can be adapted to match each student’s strengths, resulting in better educational outcomes. Quantum’s unprecedented ability to analyze large amounts of data should make significant improvements at the macro level also.

Perhaps more than any other sector, education will bear a great deal of responsibility for the future of quantum. The hope is that curricula will be adapted to continue to attract larger numbers to STEM pursuits in general and an understanding of quantum computing specifically. In that sense, quantum computing may have a role in its own future.

Manufacturing: Quantum computing’s contributions to manufacturing will impact both products and processes. As a result of its off-the-charts computational power, we should expect product improvements ranging from more efficient batteries to new materials with greater strength-to-weight ratios.

But the reach of quantum will extend far beyond the products themselves. Just as governments will use quantum to better route snowplows, applying that computing power to supply chain analysis should find new efficiencies. And as mentioned in our earlier post, manufacturers will be able to test-drive new machinery or processes virtually, without disrupting operations.

It’s important to note that the impacts of quantum computing remain largely in the future. For example, Google admits that the chemical reaction mentioned above was not terribly demanding and could have been simulated by traditional computing methods. Given the levels of investment and attention afforded to quantum, though, the future seems near indeed.