The era of quantum computing is coming more quickly than many realise. Both public and private sectors, particularly financial services, must ensure they are ready for the huge changes that the new technology will bring.

For decades, quantum computing has been viewed as a futuristic technology: it would change everything, if it ever moved from the fantastical to the practical. Even in recent years, despite billions of dollars in research investment and extensive media coverage, the field is sometimes dismissed by real-life decision-makers as a far-out pursuit for academics and theorists.

However, new challenges, like climate change, novel diseases and the world’s ever-growing population, have driven an increased need for agility, resiliency and accelerated digital maturity. With this acceleration, there will be soon a new era of computation. Quantum computing, as the heart of quantum-centric supercomputing, will dramatically impact how science and business evolve. By accelerating the discovery of solutions to big global challenges, quantum computing could unleash positive disruptions significantly more unexpected than technology waves of the past decades.

Classical computer bits can store information as either a 0 or a 1. That the physical world maintains a fixed structure with defined states is in keeping with classical mechanics. But scientists have pushed into the quantum realm of subatomic particles and realised that matter takes on probabilistic states – different possible features in different conditions. The field of quantum physics emerged to explore and understand that phenomena. Quantum computing uses quantum physics to solve problems beyond the capabilities of classical computers.

The power of quantum computing rests on two cornerstones of quantum mechanics: interference and entanglement. The principle of interference allows a quantum computer to cancel unwanted solutions and enhance correct solutions. Entanglement means the combined state of the qubits contains more information than the qubits do independently. These two principles have no classical analogy and modelling them on a classical computer would require massive resources. For example, representing the full complexity of a 100-qubit quantum computer would require more classical bits than there are atoms on earth.

The building blocks of quantum computing are already emerging. IBM is running quantum computing systems on the cloud at an unprecedented scale, compilers and algorithms are rapidly advancing and communities of quantum-proficient talent are growing. The technology’s applicability is no longer a theory, but a reality to be understood, strategised about and planned for.

The implications of quantum computing for businesses and governments are colossal. Much of our information is stored and protected by encryptions that, though highly resilient to conventional cyberattack, will offer little protection against an attack by a quantum computer. There are opportunities as well as threats, however. The immense processing power quantum computing offers could yield remarkable results, offering new tools for analysis of data, which could revolutionise how portfolio management and risk analysis operations are performed.

Quantum computing will not replace classical computing; it will extend and complement it. But even for the problems that quantum computers can solve better, we will still need classical computers. Because data input and output will continue to be classical, quantum computers and quantum programmes will require a combination of classical and quantum processing.

IBM Quantum is continuing to push forward its technology roadmap to realise quantum computing and quantum-centric supercomputing. These advances will bring useful quantum computing to the world – and help solve some of the most pressing challenges humanity faces.

Gary Seybold, Associate Partner, Offering Management (Business Process Operations), IBM.

This article was originally published in Digital Monetary Institute annual 2023.