At the Hamburger IT Strategietage, Dr. Susan Wegner, Vice President Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics, and Dr. Johannes Klepsch, Head of Product Emerging Technologies at BMW, gave a keynote speech on the topic of quantum computing. We asked Susan Wegner about the specific benefits of quantum computing for companies’ operations and what we need to do now to prepare ourselves for the technology’s commercial use.
Quantum computing has been labeled the next technological revolution, comparable to the advance in development of moving from the abacus to the computer. What exactly is so revolutionary about quantum computers?
Quantum computers are based on an entirely different model. Classic computers use bits that can have two distinct values, 0 and 1. In quantum computing, we work with qubits, which are the quantum-mechanical counterpart to bits. Qubits also describe the values that lie between 0 and 1 over a certain timespan. The qubit only has a clearly defined value in the moment at which the measurement is taken, thus allowing us to store the measurement result in a “classic” bit.
„It is important now to develop the first business applications so that we can get started as soon as the technology is widely available.”Dr. Susan Wegner, Vice President Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics
What are the advantages of this?
Quantum computing allows numerous calculations at the same time and process immense volumes of data faster and more easily. Simultaneous processing results in an exponential increase in speed, for example, optimal routes for aviation industry but also for logistics companies can be calculated for all aircraft/vehicles in parallel in real time instead of sequentially. Furthermore, when it comes to chip development, we have already come up against physical limits. We no longer have this problem in a quantum computer: i.e. the computing capacities can be expanded as necessary.
Are there also risks associated with this technology?
Yes, there will be security risks for older systems based on today's encryption algorithms. Mathematical methods must make it as unlikely as possible to guess a correct solution in a finite amount of time. However, if computing power increases significantly, older methods will reach their limits and will have to be replaced by new, more powerful methods. Our IT security specialists are therefore already working on evaluating these new algorithms and helping to implement them.
How far along is development?
We’ve come a long way but the technology is definitely still in its infancy. Even today, however, a quantum computer is far superior to a classic computer in certain tasks. An example: Using 54-qubit processors from Google, a quantum computer can solve a specific task from the field of random generation in 200 seconds that would take a classic computer 10,000 years to complete. This example shows how important it is to develop the first business applications now so that we can get started as soon as the technology is widely available.
When exactly is Lufthansa Industry Solutions working on?
We’re currently concentrating on applications in the aviation industry. One use case we’re working on involves optimizing flight plans. It’s a classic optimization problem: it’s time-critical and concerns a substantial number and wide variety of flight routes and airplane types – from cargo planes to passenger aircraft. The implementation on a classical computer showed that the information is so highly complex that it pushed a classic computer to its limits. As a result, we were forced to reduce the amount of information we used for modeling. We are currently trying out different quantum computer technologies to find out which is best suited for this application. Another example is flight route planning. As of very recently, airlines have been able to introduce slight variations in their flight routes rather than just specifying them precisely. At the same time, flight routes are optimized for short travel times, minimal kerosene consumption and climate impact. This also involves processing and calculating vast amounts of information in real time. We are working to implement the calculations in different architectures, which will enable us to develop the best architecture and the best algorithm.
Another example is flight route planning. As of very recently, airlines have been able to introduce slight variations in their flight routes rather than just specifying them precisely. At the same time, flight routes are optimized for short travel times, minimal kerosene consumption and climate impact. This also involves processing and calculating vast amounts of information in real time. We are working to implement the calculations in different architectures, which will enable us to develop the best architecture and the best algorithm.
Is the development process similar to that of a classic computer?
No, you have to take a physics-based approach, think completely differently, model differently and, above all, gain experience and an advantage is to exchange ideas with others. This is a completely new technology that first needs to be understood and tested in practice.
Is this why Lufthansa Industry Solutions has become a member of the Quantum Technology & Application Consortium (QUTAC)?
Yes, absolutely. We wouldn’t make any progress battling away on our own. Collaboration and transparency are essential, in general but especially in the field of quantum computing. QUTAC aims to promote the technical sovereignty of Germany and Europe and establish a new platform for action to bring industrial use of quantum technology to the fore. Its focus is not on the hardware but on developing and applying business cases. It is about building up knowledge, gathering experience, and attracting and inspiring talented young people to engage with the new technology.
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 2,100 members of staff at several branch offices in Germany, Albania, Switzerland and the USA.