EyeforTravel San Francisco 2018

April 2018, San Francisco

Quantum leap into a new kind of machine learning

In a series of articles, starting today, theoretical physicist Joerg Esser ponders the question: is quantum machine learning the next step in the AI journey and should businesses be worried yet?

When I sat my doctoral exam 20 years ago, I was asked about the potential impact of quantum computing and whether this theoretical idea would ever become a reality. At the time it was impossible to say, but ever since I have been following developments in this exciting field with interest.

Let’s just say that it's been a quantum leap into 2018. We’ve had two big names – Intel and IBM – both revealing their new generation of quantum computers at CES in Las Vegas. Then a team of physicists from University College London published a breakthrough study on creating a hack-proof quantum Internet, showing that completely secure communications are possible. And encrypted images have been transmitted long distance – from Beijing to Vienna – for the first time ever via a quantum network. All in the first month of 2018!

QC will play a critical role in the creation of artificial intelligence

Challenges in machine learning, which many travel companies have been experimenting with, lend themselves particularly to quantum computing: "QC will play a critical role in the creation of artificial intelligence," says Geordie Rose, Founder of D-Wave, one of the first companies to build quantum computers. The MIT tech review agrees: "Quantum computers will be particularly suited to factoring large numbers […], solving complex optimisation problems, and executing machine-learning algorithms. And there will be applications nobody has yet envisioned."

Quantum machine learning, the next big thing?

Clearly, quantum machine learning (QML) is going to be the next big thing, disrupting the already mind-boggling field of artificial intelligence. Quantum computing is, dare I say it, approaching the mainstream!

As a theoretical physicist this is exciting stuff. But as a business leader and consultant, it also raises two questions:

  • To what extent businesses need to be worrying about this?
  •  Is it just another technological step on the path to the commoditisation of practically unlimited computing power?

After all, we seem to get on perfectly well without knowing all the ins and outs of how the silicon chips work in our computers today!

Yet, in my opinion, quantum computing appears too fundamental to ignore. It makes sense to at least embrace this field to the extent that you understand the new developments and can assess their potential impact on business somewhere down the road.

On the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, quantum computing is currently considered an ‘innovation trigger’ that will take more than ten years until mainstream adoption.

However, I believe that this is potentially misleading, and a more nuanced assessment is required. 

Special applications may be just a few years off

While general-purpose quantum computing is indeed broadly expected to be a decade or more away, special applications may be just a few years off. Machine learning happens to be one such application, advancing the already hot field of artificial intelligence.

In any case, getting our head around what it's all about seems to be a good place to start.

Watch out for part II when consultant Joerg Esser, a former group director at Thomas Cook and a regular speaker and moderator on the EyeforTravel event trail, delves deeper into what could be the next big thing in computing

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