Germany has been researching intensively into quantum computers for a long time now – and the first commercial applications are already here. However, other countries are hot on its heels. Bernhard Kube, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND), and Joseph Doetsch, Data Scientist and LHIND Expert for Quantum Computing, therefore recommend picking up the pace in the development of specialized quantum applications.
Norderstedt, June 8, 2023 – Although the topic of quantum computing is being discussed in depth, it is often referred to as something for the distant future. Some statements sound more like science fiction. So, what is it really about?
Bernhard Kube: Quantum computing was never fiction, but rather a science first and foremost. In other words, it has so far been purely a research topic – very interesting but with little practical value. But now things have changed, and many companies are seeking options for commercial application. And of course, on the vendor side, there are the usual suspects like IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. The good news is that, here in Germany, there is a large number of start-ups that are already developing practical applications for quantum computing. And many well-known German companies are also active and have organized themselves into the Quantum Technology and Application Consortium (QUTAC)). Aside from Bosch, Trumpf, SAP, Volkswagen, for example, LHIND is also part of this consortium.
Joseph Doetsch: : Everyone is researching applications for quantum computers and some have identified very promising applications, for example in the simulation of new materials. This is one of the first areas in which we expect a practical quantum advantage: A state of development in which quantum computers are superior to conventional IT systems in practically relevant situations. And they are not expected to be just a bit better, but rather ten thousand times more powerful.
How is that possible? Can you explain it in the simplest possible terms?
Joseph Doetsch: I will give it a try, but this will be the drastically abridged version.
The basic unit of quantum computing is the qubit (short for quantum bit). The classic bit in conventional IT only has one state, with the values 0 or 1. In contrast, a qubit can have a very large number of different states. This makes the high computing power of quantum computers possible – power that eclipses anything previously seen in computer technology.
For example, quantum computers can only be simulated up to a capacity of about 35 qubits on the current fastest “classic” supercomputers. It is important to note that, due to the different systematics, the same applications as on a supercomputer are not possible on a quantum computer. For many tasks, far more qubits are required.
Here is an example to illustrate the scale of it: One of the biggest dangers of quantum computing is the cracking of encryptions. We have a rough estimate of how much power a quantum computer would need in order to defeat an RSA cryptosystem, for example – and that is approximately 4,000 qubits. However, in order to produce a meaningful result, this figure must be error-corrected. An additional 1,000 qubits are required per qubit.
Bernhard Kube: Therefore, in total, several million qubits would have to be used. As it stands, we are nowhere close to achieving that. However, in terms of progress, it is just a matter of time before quantum computing renders conventional encryption systems completely obsolete. But that does not mean that encryption will no longer be possible at all in the future. On the contrary, there are already quantum-proof encryption systems. Companies must prepare to use these as well. We need to start doing this now – and not when the quantum advantage is on the side of those attacking our security architecture.
This most certainly shows that the use of quantum computers is not as simple as with conventional IT systems. How quickly will development progress? Is there such a thing as Moore’s law for quantum computers?
Bernhard Kube: It is difficult to predict a development, let alone identify a pattern in it – especially since we are at a stage where basic research is still being carried out in the search for the best architecture. However, as soon as the best variant has emerged, I expect to see something similar to Moore’s law for the further development of quantum computers as well.
Joseph Doetsch: In the years to come, we still have some practical hurdles to overcome. For example, there are competing hardware concepts. It remains to be seen which will ultimately prevail or whether they will be operated in parallel with each other. Furthermore, it is unclear whether quantum computing will evolve in small steps or big leaps. For example, if researchers find a way to simplify error correction, this should speed up development significantly.
What can quantum computers already do today? Where can we expect the first commercial uses?
Bernhard Kube: As consultants and IT service providers for businesses, we are particularly interested in optimization solutions. Here we see enormous potential that quantum computers will be able to fulfill in the near future. Many optimizations, for example in production and logistics, can be achieved with relatively small quantum systems. There are already quantum algorithms that scale better than the classic optimization methods.
Joseph Doetsch: But you should not think of their use in the same way as traditional IT systems. At the moment, we are still very much dealing with hardware-related programming, which requires specialists with the right physics expertise. On top of that, actual quantum computers will continue to be very rare and expensive for the foreseeable future.
Bernhard Kube: This also means that quantum computing is currently more of a thing for larger companies. But with our consulting and project portfolio, we at LHIND are also offering small and medium-sized companies the chance to evaluate use cases of quantum computing as well as access to quantum computers. There are some DAX-listed corporations that are working on the topic but with relatively small teams. In order to pool these resources and make faster progress, we founded QUTAC.
An additional purpose of the consortium is to convince politicians to become part of this quantum strategy. For example, on June 14th, there will be a parliamentary evening in Berlin with the title “Future potential of quantum computing for the German economy”.
Compared to other countries, we in Germany are well positioned when it comes to quantum computing research. And we should further consolidate this position with funding for research. Moreover, we should prioritize the development of commercial applications for our companies. There are already some promising projects, with which we want to take the lead and hold our own in practice.
Lufthansa Industry Solutions offers mid-sized companies the opportunity to evaluate quantum computing use cases and access quantum computers.
Our Workshop on the following topics:
- Basic knowledge: How quantum computing works and its impact on different industries and business areas.
- Business indicators: Current state of the technology and concrete measures in industry and academia.
- Technology & Challenges: Potential implementations and current limitations
- Identification of use cases in the enterprise
- Assessment of the feasibility of potential use cases
- Development of a quantum roadmap
- Preparing and selecting use cases for proof-of-concept studies
- Proof-of-concept implementation of selected use cases
- Benchmarking of quantum solutions compared to classical solutions
- Joint coding workshop
- Simulation of quantum algorithms on high-performance computers
- Algorithm execution of the use cases on quantum hardware
About Lufthansa Industry Solutions
Lufthansa Industry Solutions is a service provider for IT consulting and system integration. This Lufthansa subsidiary helps its clients with the digital transformation of their companies. Its customer base includes companies both within and outside the Lufthansa Group, as well as more than 300 companies in various lines of business. The company is based in Norderstedt and employs more than 2,300 members of staff at several branch offices in Germany, Albania, Switzerland and the USA.