Quantum computing may be years or decades away from maturity, but IT and program owners dealing with big questions should start preparing for quantum now. Therefore, it is incumbent upon agency leaders and their staffs to position their programs and technical capabilities now to be able to take advantage of quantum when it does arrive.
This may be particularly important for cybersecurity. IT practitioners legitimately worry that quantum computing, when it does reach its potential, will be able to quickly crack encryption algorithms. However, quantum computing offers enormous potential for defensive cybersecurity as well.
For example, one case we’ve explored at CGI Federal applies quantum computing to behavioral analytics for insider threat identification and detection. Since the underlying physics aren’t concerned with the particulars of the use case, developers can frame complex cybersecurity issues as optimization problems and leverage powerful quantum tools in defense of client data and infrastructure.
Explore a quantum universe of possibilities
Cybersecurity is only one quantum use case. This multi-dimensional approach in cybersecurity illustrates the broader utility of quantum computing—namely, capacity. Future quantum computers will certainly be fast. Quantum architecture’s capacity for dealing with large structured and unstructured data sets, though, will also be a large part of its fundamental impact. It means that for a given problem, quantum will enable you to create a comprehensive solution, rather than a single threaded computation for only one part of a problem.
Another example comes from the public health domain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) analytics group envisions a way of using big data to identify the next potential viral outbreak while simultaneously modeling response mechanisms and the capacity of the medical supply chain to support potential responses.
With conventional computing, even with conventional supercomputing, CDC must do the disease or syndromic surveillance first. Then, serially, it can analyze responses and industrial capacity. Quantum brings the potential to deliver the end-to-end solutions from detection to determining the most effective response and mitigation tactics.
In the energy domain, quantum promises the capability of modeling usage patterns, generating potential from multiple sources, and grid effects—all over a prolonged period, so decision makers have realistic views of how systems will perform. The Department of Energy is already at work on quantum as applied to the big energy questions.
Quantum use cases abound. Regardless of the domain, quantum has the potential to give technologists and policy makers the tools to make better decisions, instead of making complex questions into political footballs.
Staying ahead of the hardware curve
How do you go about exploring quantum computing, then, given that quantum hardware is rare and, at this point, mostly experimental?
One way is to use the early-stage quantum services already put online by vendors such as IBM. Experimenters and researchers can use systems from a few quantum bits (aka qubits) to several hundred qubits. Note that quantum practitioners agree that full realization of quantum will require systems of several thousand qubits.
Another way is to use services and tools available from commercial cloud computing services providers. Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and others offer quantum simulation.
Of course, you also need software. Programming for quantum is different from programming for conventional computing. At CGI, we are developing algorithms to help with cybersecurity insider threats and with energy management for both federal and commercial clients. We are comfortable with quantum development toolsets such as Julia and Qiskit.
A big focus of conventional development has been aimed at end users and improving their experience. With quantum computing, we are also focused on the developer and engineer’s ability to engage with it and realize its potential.
We believe the opportunity is currently available for federal CIOs, CTOs and senior program managers, should they want to start thinking about and experimenting with quantum computing and its application to address big issues at hand. Still another use case comes to mind: how to equitably ensure the future financial viability of major programs like Social Security.
Yes, quantum at scale is years off. But now is the time for agencies to prioritize their major challenges, consider the data sources necessary to understand them and model solutions, and begin thinking in the multi-dimensional way that quantum will let them realize.
For more on quantum computing, read my earlier blog post, "How quantum computing and smart planning could supercharge AI."