Emerging Technologies

For quantum to succeed, there needs to be a shift in mindset

How is quantum technology going to develop in the next decade?

How is quantum technology going to develop in the next decade? Image: UNSPLASH/Fractal Hassan

Duncan Jones
Head of Cybersecurity, Quantinuum
Filipe Beato
Lead, Centre for Cybersecurity, World Economic Forum
Itan Barmes
Project Fellow, Quantum Security, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Emerging Technologies

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  • Quantum technology is developing rapidly and has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars within the global economy.
  • However, there is a risk that organizations will fail to benefit fully from the advances in quantum computing.
  • Business leaders need to make two important mindset shifts. Here are four key strategies to provoke momentum within an organization for the shift to happen.

Governments around the world are launching quantum computing policies - something rarely seen for a core technology - alongside committing billions to the development and protection of quantum information systems.

A range of industries is braced for revolution, as previously intractable problems become solvable when approached using quantum computers. These use cases will include drug discovery, financial optimization, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity.

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The quantum cybersecurity space, in particular, is seeing significant momentum. On the one hand, quantum computers threaten to undermine the fabric of our existing encryption systems, resulting in a critical need to migrate systems to quantum-safe approaches. The urgency of addressing the quantum threat has been underscored by both experts and governments.

The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) set the “Y2Q” countdown clock ticking down to 2030, a projected date when quantum computers will break encryption. Whilst the US government announced two presidential directives for advancing quantum technologies, aiming for an equitable transition to quantum-resistant cryptography by 2035. On the other hand, quantum technology can strengthen existing encryption, promising to be a $30bn market by the end of the decade. Commercial products solving previously intractable problems using quantum computers are being launched for enhancing cybersecurity.

Two mindset shifts to realize the potential of quantum technology

Despite the promising progress and opportunity, there is a risk that organizations will fail to benefit fully from the advances in quantum computing. To stay ahead of the curve and mitigate this risk, business leaders need to make two important mindset shifts.

1. Understand the quantum timeline as adopting quantum technology is not an overnight task

Some business leaders believe fifteen or twenty years will pass before quantum computing will make an impact, perhaps around the same time that cybersecurity is threatened. Those with this mindset are likely to underinvest in quantum skills and technology, which may prove an existential mistake. Taking a pessimistic attitude toward quantum progress may also lead businesses to be exposed to cybersecurity risks. A lack of readiness for the quantum threat would risk the exposure of sensitive data through quantum-powered attacks.

The mindset shift needed is to recognise that quantum is moving quickly and that companies who fail to recognize that will pay a steep penalty, either from loss of competitive advantage or from catastrophic cyber attacks. Those close to the quantum industry believe that quantum will deliver value incrementally over the next decade, and many Fortune 500 companies are wisely investing early to keep abreast of their competition.

2. Break down silos by educating and empowering teams to understand the impact and to derive an action plan

Despite the clear mandate from governments, quantum is often discussed in the periphery of companies. Where there are teams focused on quantum, they are often small and siloed, facing an ongoing struggle to engage their colleagues in meaningful projects. A surprising number of these quantum teams are grass-roots efforts, started because a few individuals self-organized a movement to address the potential opportunities and risks. Top-down support and cross-functional integration are rare.

In cybersecurity, silos trigger a rift between the quantum and non-quantum communities, driven by overinflated claims on the one side, and deep scepticism on the other. Many quantum cybersecurity companies are developing useful technologies, but do not realize how to express them to the cyber community, nor integrate them successfully into real-world systems. The net result is companies may miss out on security enhancements, such as quantum key generation or quantum key distribution because their cybersecurity teams view them with suspicion.

Four key actions to enable the potential of quantum computing

To help establish these new mindsets, here are four actions to provoke momentum within an organization:

1. Explore early use cases for quantum within the next five years

Adopting quantum technology is not an overnight task. Companies should be exploring early use opportunities and planning pilot projects. Rather than seeing quantum as a distant tool, business leaders should review the near-term use and prioritize one or two tracks to pursue. Only organizations that prioritize exploration today will be able to make the quantum leap in the near future.

2. Address the critical skills gap

Quantum computers are very different from classical computers, and a different skill set is needed to solve problems using them. To get an edge using quantum computing, businesses will need to develop intellectual property, such as quantum algorithms, that let them solve problems faster than their competitors. The skill sets required for these problems are in high demand, and top companies have been snapping up the talent for years already. It’s unclear whether the inevitable growth in demand will be matched by the increase in talent hitting the market.

Getting the right mix of talent is equally important. For instance, in cybersecurity it is important to balance quantum cryptographers with classical cryptographers, to ensure pragmatic real-world systems are developed that consider the full spectrum of cyber risks and trade-offs.

In every case, businesses that move early to guarantee talent will be better positioned to capitalize on quantum technology as it matures.

3. Plan and prepare for the quantum-threat

The positives of quantum are coming soon, but so are the negatives. Businesses must prepare, today, for the impact quantum will have on their cybersecurity systems. For a large organization, this will require a lot of work. Simply understanding what existing systems are in place is a mammoth task, before considering the effort to migrate systems and work with a multitude of vendors.

Companies who start this process now will be ready when Quantum “Q-Day” arrives.

4. Weave quantum into the business and technology strategy

Silos have to be broken down for quantum technologies to be successfully integrated into a business. To help with this, executives should focus on making quantum a major strand of company strategy, rather than a fringe activity supported by grass-roots enthusiasts. One approach to this is to require each department or division to incorporate plans related to quantum technology in their strategic planning each year.

By taking steps like these, business leaders can get on the front foot of a technology that will transform industries.

But only if the right mindset is applied.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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