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Innovation 10 Oct 2019

Will Quantum Computing change the face of banking? BBVA believes it might!

With technology and digitization increasingly powering the global economy, the emergence of quantum computing could prove to be a significant catalyst for innovation and growth.

This paradigm shift is likely because of the huge potential the massive processing power quantum computing offers – and BBVA for one believes it could fundamentally change the face of banking.

This increase in processing power matters because while Moore’s law – the premise that classical processing chip power would double every two years – isn’t exactly dead, a lot of experts think it is certainly slowing down as the scale at which semiconductors approaches the individual atom scale.

And that means, fundamentally, there is a potential problem with classical computers on the horizon.

However it’s that problem that quantum computing – an area where BBVA has been working individually and with partners for the past few years – is beginning to show signs of overcoming.

At South Summit in Madrid the power, or at least potential power, of quantum computing was one topic that drew a lot of focus, with several sessions dedicated to understanding the technology’s potential impact.

One of those sessions featured BBVAs quantum computing algorithms’ lead, Escolastico Sanchez, alongside specialist quantum computing start-up Multiverse Computing, that is currently working with BBVA in this line of Research.

Opening the session, Sanchez began by reiterating the statement that while quantum computing was a dream for mathematicians and physicists, it was a nightmare for engineers.

The real power in qubits comes from what Einstein described as “spooky action at a distance”

Part of this is undoubtedly the actual physical conditions that are needed to get quantum computers to work – so far requiring temperatures of close to absolute zero, -273.15 degrees Celsius.

At this temperature, scientists are able to measure the state at which the quantum bits, or qubits, are in – and upon which calculations can be achieved – comparative to the 1 and 0 states you get in the semi-conductors of classical computers.

But the big difference here – and why this could change the shape of both computing and the financial services sector – is that due to the strange nature of quantum mechanics, qubits can be in both the 1 or 0 state at the same time, as well as many other states in between.

However the real power in qubits comes from what Einstein described as “spooky action at a distance”- or quantum entanglement – where pairs or more of qubits act together despite any distance between them. In computing terms, it’s as though all the bits in a classical computer were suddenly linked and could be measured simultaneously rather than one after another.

For Sanchez, this has huge potential value because of the complexity of calculations that can be done – hence why BBVA is putting resources into research and partnership so it can be, as he put it, “quantum ready for our clients”.

Take just one example, as Sanchez told the audience, related to RSA-2048 numbers used at the highest levels of encryption. He said: “If you were trying to solve this encryption – to find the key to decrypt – using a classical computer it would need 1034 steps to do. Even using a processor capable of a trillion operations a second it would take 317 billion years. It’s impossible.

“But on a quantum computer running Shor’s algorithm, it would need just 107 steps, which if you have a Mhz quantum computer, running just a million operations a second, you could do this calculation in about 10 seconds. That’s the potential power of quantum computing.”

He added though that people don’t need to fear that the world’s cryptography is about to break down, as the top quantum computers currently have just 53 qubits in processing power, and to break cryptographic codes you would need at least 1,500 – and that is still a long way off.

“However for optimizing modelling or running more sophisticated AI programs – like those we are seeing now in banking to help people understand their financial choices better – maybe just a hundred or more qubits of processing power is needed – and we are getting close to that.”

Roman Orus, from Multiverse, which specialises in providing hyper-efficient software for companies looking to gain an edge in quantum computing or artificial intelligence, offered a couple more areas where qubits could change the sector.

For example around algorithmic trading in investment banking – where the power of the algorithm to track prices and place buy and sell orders is all powerful, until something faster and better comes along.

Or in modelling the complex world of economics to help people and businesses predict where global economies are going and to prepare for growth or even recession.

Either way, as Sanchez concluded – while we are not there yet when it comes to real world applications for quantum computing – we are getting closer by the hour and for banks like BBVA the need to constantly watch this space and play an active part in it is undeniable.

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