Quantum computing is entering the conversation at more and more blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) conferences. Sometimes participants voice concerns that powerful quantum computers will crack blockchain cryptography, rendering its immutable ledgers insecure.

But some are also pondering how these three powerful technologies could connect and coexist in the future.

There may be no better to person to query about the power of quantum computing than Robert Sutor, vice president of IBM’s Q Strategy and Ecosystem, who has extensive experience in blockchain, AI and quantum computing. Sutor recently participated in C2 Montreal, a conference exploring the relationship between commerce and creativity.

Quantum Computing Explained

Paraphrasing the late physicist Richard Feynman, Sutor tells ThirtyK that even today’s high-performance supercomputers aren’t powerful enough to represent nature, or the fundamental processes behind chemistry and biology and how they interact. That’s because a unit of information or “bit” processed by these “classical computers” can hold either a one or a zero. A quantum computer has what’s called a “qubit,” however, and it can hold both of these values. This means quantum computers can perform a vast number of calculations at once, using less energy.

The best way to prepare for the quantum computing revolution of tomorrow is to master the possibilities of technologies like blockchain today.

Take the example of a scientist who wants to figure out the exact energy configuration among the atoms in a molecule. Sutor suggests picturing a single molecule of caffeine. “It’s not a large molecule, nor a complicated structure,” he says, but the amount of information needed to describe it with today’s computers would be 10 to the 48th power of bits. That’s a shockingly large number, the equivalent of 10 percent of the atoms of the Earth itself. For a quantum computer, on the other hand, digesting that kind of information would be much simpler.

IBM has already built a quantum computer capable of processing 50 qubits. Once the next generation of such machines can handle hundreds of quibits, however, they could be applied to areas like drug discovery, financial risk analysis and logistics, Sutor says.

Blockchain-Quantum Possibilities

Even though Sutor is among the experts exploring the current limits of this technology, he refrains from speculating about how quantum computing and blockchain will intersect in the near future.

 “I’m not sure there’s any short-term, well-defined connection between blockchain and quantum,” he says. “I don’t think people really know.”

Sutor suggests, however, that the best way to prepare for the quantum computing revolution of tomorrow is to master the possibilities of technologies like blockchain today.

“What blockchain forces you to do is think of something like a supply chain, from the very earliest person or thing in the production process all the way to the consumer,” he says. This could include not only the creation of a product but how it is shipped, the financial transactions, customs inspections and so on. “It’s offering us an extremely accurate recording of a sequence of events,” he says.

As a result, blockchain is also forcing people to digitize more data, which will help organizations learn more about their current processes and how they might improve them. Eventually, that might include use cases for blockchain involving quantum computers once the latter become more commercially available. And AI could help provide greater insight from the data that is transacted and protected through blockchain, Sutor says.

“A lot of times business processes start with ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’” Sutor says. “Blockchain and the insights we get from the data might guarantee things like food safety, but it could also teach us ways of doing everything.”

Shane Schick
Shane Schick is veteran journalist who covers lifestyle, business and technology issues. He is the editor-in-chief of the Canada-based B2B News Network and Chair of the 2018 Blockchain Summit in Canada.