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The Rise of Quantum Computing: Social Impact or Self-Made Tech?

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2023-12-24

The Rise of Quantum Computing for Social Impact

In contrast to conventional computers, which utilize binary "bits" – switches that are either on (represented as 1) or off (represented as 0) for data processing, quantum computers depend on "qubits.” These qubits are miniature subatomic particles capable of being in a combination of both states at the same time.

Less error-prone, more accurate, and faster: quantum computing is proving to be useful, and has been since 2021, at least, for real-life applications. But can it also be helpful for social good? An expert at IBM spoke of Eagle, their quantum algorithm: “Eagle returned accurate answers every time. And watching how both computational paradigms performed as the simulations grew increasingly complex made both teams feel confident the quantum computer was still returning answers more accurately than the classical approximation methods.” The question here is whether we can harness a critical use of quantum computing looking ahead. Another question to be posed is: are we there yet?

The testing method by IBM, contrasted against those of other institutions such as UC Berkeley, California, consisted of a comparative approach for each method, such as brute force compared to classical computing methods to test for processing speed. Technicalities aside, research is focused today more than ever in outperforming classic computing capabilities. Values for qubit capability were expected to keep growing significantly by 2024. Additionally, IBM’s promise is always applicability: “[R]esearch use cases for near-term quantum processors in domains like healthcare and life sciences or machine learning.” IBM’s varied research programs–even including programs for undergraduate students–join an ecosystem of scientific communities, advanced-tech facilities and laboratories.

As for use cases, the majority of them remain undetermined. ​​From aerodynamics testing to design optimization and material testing for cars and other industrial products, IBM’s promise to accomplish more in the next ten years than in the past thirty is still to be proven as a solid claim. As of 2023, Google has joined the race by providing an error decoding system that does not compromise or change information. Google, as a product-owning leader in technology, could integrate quantum computing into their operations soon, to allow the workforce to make use of it and boost their products’ features.

Can Quantum Improve Lives?

It is estimated that “quantum computers could potentially enable better weather forecasting, financial analysis, logistics planning, space research, and drug discovery.” The question here, as it often is, is public policy, which, as it is largely managed and ideated by humans, will not be able to keep up with processed information on research–even if it is error-free. That is because there is a disparity between social and technological development; development curves for innovative technology often lack the adoption and human capability to deal with its implications. The phenomenon by which quantum adapts to attacks of “brute force” is through record-breaking decryption. Let’s delve into this further. No matter the social concerns, the first concern is human safety.

According to the UCL Finance and Technology Review, “quantum computers “are impenetrable to brute force attack, [which] means that even great computing power cannot ‘break’ the key, as it would take over centuries to do so.” If internet speed for humans is vulnerable to attacks, then is having faster interconnectivity worth it? Then, by this logic, the race for quantum computing is not worrying about this question yet; the time when it does is not going to, in our view, usher in any time soon.

IBM’s Qiskit: Benefits of Open Source Development

There is, however, one example of social innovation, which is IBM’s Qiskit, forged through open-source development as part of their research network, which we’ve mentioned earlier. Qiskit claims to run on any hardware and is able to run in a local Python environment by downloading the program. This way, IBM's Qiskit is not only breaking down the barriers of accessibility but also bringing the quantum revolution to the fingertips of anyone with a basic understanding of Python. It is an impressive testament to the democratizing power of open-source philosophy, opening up new avenues for programmers, students, and researchers worldwide. It's a gateway that allows curious minds to step into the world of quantum computing and contribute to its development, regardless of their geographical location or institutional affiliation.

Open-source development has long been hailed as a catalyst for innovation. With Qiskit, the theory meets the practice in a powerful, tangible way. By tapping into the global talent pool, IBM is constantly refining and improving the software, inviting diverse minds to work together to solve some of the most complex computational challenges. This collaborative approach can accelerate the progress in quantum computing by involving a broader community and facilitating a continuous cycle of learning, building, and refining.

Moreover, Qiskit's adaptability across different hardware platforms is one of its major strengths, boosting its potential for widespread use. It eliminates the barriers of proprietary systems, thereby enabling more researchers and developers to participate in quantum computing. Consequently, it amplifies the chances of discovering breakthroughs by a factor that only the collective intelligence of a worldwide community can provide.

Another significant benefit of Qiskit's open-source nature is its educational value. The open-access software simplifies quantum computing for the average coder and serves as an invaluable resource for learning and teaching. From academic courses to independent learning modules, Qiskit is inspiring a new generation of quantum computer scientists, providing them with the tools to explore and push the boundaries of what's possible.


One might conclude that innovation and social impact in the case of quantum computing come not from the technology itself but from what leading companies like IBM and Google are doing to democratize technology. Often, social good is not just about good ideas but about good practices: the people it benefits are the ones empowered to understand, use and disseminate the technology itself.

Users, then, can ideally manipulate, and even innovate with it. This empowerment creates a ripple effect, spreading the knowledge and application of quantum computing to various sectors of society. Whether it is a university student in a remote corner of the world attempting to solve a complex algorithm, a small startup in Silicon Valley trying to revolutionize data encryption, or a governmental research institute working on climate modelling, the democratisation of quantum technology brings in a diverse range of perspectives, which can lead to innovative solutions to some of the world's most complex challenges.

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