From finance to pharmaceuticals, an increasing number of companies from different industries are embracing the opportunities that quantum computing opens. Participants at a recent BBVA Open Talks explored the collaboration needed between researchers, companies and new professionals to take a leap into the next technological era and fully leverage its advantages.
If innovation is a cosmos, quantum computing has expanded its own universe in recent years: tech giants have set off in a race to advance this technology that essentially will make it possible for a new generation of computers to perform far more sophisticated operations much faster than conventional computers. The secret lies in cubits or quantum bits: a traditional bit represents a single binary value (that is, 0 or 1), while a cubit can represent both values at the same time through the laws of quantum mechanics.
IBM, which has described quantum computing as a fast-growing technology, launched its first quantum computer, Q System One, in 2019 and is now working to scale the tech. Three years ago, Google researchers also claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy, the first proof that a quantum computer is more powerful than a conventional one. Microsoft, D-Wave and Rigetti are other companies driving this growing market that still has challenges to tackle.
Likewise, many sectors are itching to put this tech into practice. In health care, it will enable the design of new treatments for a multitude of diseases. In the automotive sector, it will be used to predict traffic volumes. And in the financial sector, it will make it possible to optimise investment portfolios or more accurately detect fraud thanks to the work of companies like Quantum Mads.
In the latter, projects like CUCO are of particular note, involving organisations like BBVA and CSIC to promote the development of quantum computing algorithms and applications in strategic sectors, such as energy, finance and defence. CUCO is also a good example of how collaboration between the private and public spheres has become a necessary factor for transferring quantum computing to real use cases.
“Bringing this technology out of the academic sphere means entering a development phase and asking questions about what applications it is going to have. This certainly helps to increase funding and more resources dedicated to research”, says Marta Pascual, Senior Quantum Engineer at Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech, a company that makes quantum processors, during the recent BBVA Open Talks: Quantum Technologies in Research, Industry and Talent. Experts like Pascual discussed a number of points at this virtual event organised by BBVA Open Innovation, including how collaboration serves as a driving force for progress in this field.
Research and private organisations: a vital combination
For quantum computing to make an impact on the market, private and public organisations are called on to join forces to develop innovative solutions and improve services. Escolástico Sánchez, Quantum Discipline Leader at BBVA, explains that “the public sector provides extensive experience with researchers and scientific muscle, while the private sector offers knowledge of expertise in business needs and technological muscle”.
The connection between these two fields to drive quantum computing, a technology that entails a long-distance race, is causing a shift in the mindset of both, says Esperanza Cuenca, Head of Strategy and Outreach at Multiverse Computing, a company that has partnered with BBVA to optimise investment portfolios using quantum computing. The expert believes that research centres have embraced a more practical way of thinking when evaluating the real applications of this technology, while private companies are taking a long-term approach rather than focusing on immediate results.
“The public sector provides extensive experience with researchers and scientific muscle, while the private sector offers knowledge of expertise in business needs and technological muscle”
To this end, Patricia García, Quantum Data and AI Domain Leader at Kyndryl, a company that specialises in the development of technology services, notes that there is still a certain “scepticism” when it comes to convincing companies of how important it is to implement a specific strategy on quantum technologies.
So how can companies be swayed to invest in quantum technologies? On the one hand, by showcasing the possibilities that quantum-inspired algorithms provide, “techniques based on certain aspects of quantum mechanics that can be run on classical machines”, in Cuenca's words. Currently, applications like the ones listed above are already being developed for the financial, automotive and financial sectors.
On the other hand, García recommends investing in this technology now rather than waiting for it to mature. In her opinion, companies that fail to do so “may miss an opportunity and fall behind the competition by the time the tech matures" and, moreover, “"the development of quantum algorithms requires time and adjustments”.
To launch a strategy based on quantum technologies, Cuenca, from Multiverse Computing, who also participated in BBVA Open Talks: Quantum technologies in Research, Industry and Talent, notes that it is important to take the first steps “by reflecting on the mission, purpose and meaning” of the strategy.
Talent blooms under the light of quantum technologies
The push for quantum computing from the public and private spheres is paired with the emergence of a new wave of talent and job opportunities. According to the latest data from the 'Quantum Technology Monitor', a report prepared by the McKinsey consultancy firm, the need for experts in quantum technology ecosystem is increasing as the field grows: the demand for professionals triples the demand for graduates in disciplines associated with this field.
To remedy this situation, the consultancy firm points to the potential of training programmes, since there are some 350,000 graduates worldwide who have some kind of knowledge related to this disruptive field. To that end, IBM has launched quantum computing courses for students.
Quantum computing is also a field that requires multidisciplinary professionals, not just programmers. “At first, this technology was in the hands of physicists and mathematicians. However, engineers, computer scientists, marketing specialists, data scientists, technology managers, etc. have been incorporated in the leap to practical applications”, says Kyndryl’s Patricia García.
“Engineers, computer scientists, marketing specialists, data scientists, technology managers, etc. have been incorporated in the leap to practical applications”
In this same vein, Escolástico Sánchez, from BBVA, believes that “the drive to add talent to the field of quantum computing must be a joint effort between the public and private sectors”. He also explains that “recruiting research professionals is something that benefits companies to build innovative and value-added solutions because they have all this knowledge and experience at their disposal”.
The work of private and public organisations, as well as the training of talent, means that computing is gradually expanding in the innovative ecosystem. Collaboration among these three core players is a driving force for accelerating the development of this technology and imagining new applications that can revolutionise medicine, finance and urban mobility.