From the editor's desk: The next quantum leap

January 2024 News

Kim Roberts, Editor

It’s a fresh new year alive with possibility. Happy new year, and here’s wishing you one where you can rise to the challenges ahead and still enjoy all the good things we have in this country.

This issue features a bumper automation professionals section, which, over the years has been the mouthpiece for the SI community in South Africa. We are kicking off with an overview of how to choose an SI, and a contribution from Iritron. There’s more to come, and we would welcome case studies and company profiles from our local SIs.

A new year is for looking ahead, but if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with generative AI, and how to make it work for you. Tighten your seatbelt, there’s more. Scientists are pushing the envelope again, and this time it’s quantum computing. I wanted to know more, so here goes.

Quantum computing is part of quantum mechanics, which explores how the physical world works at the molecular level. Basically it’s a new future generation of super-fast computers that process information as qubits, or quantum bits. This replaces the bits in normal computing that we are all used to, that can be either zero or one. The qubits in quantum computing are tiny subatomic particles that can exist in many different states. This means they can be a one or zero simultaneously, or any state between, like a coin spinning in midair.

So, processing will have countless variables, not just two. Computing power will be increased exponentially, and quantum computers will be able to run calculations way faster than the ones we have now. Estimates say quantum computers will operate 158 million times faster than the fastest supercomputers available today. Complex problems, that would now take today’s most powerful supercomputer several years, will be solved in seconds.

Even though large-scale quantum computers are not yet commercially available, quantum computing is already with us. In five to ten years it could become mainstream in the same way that classical computers did in the 70s and 80s. The world’s biggest tech companies are racing to get the edge with quantum. IBM has over 60 functioning quantum computers, and has as collaborators industry giants ranging from Exxon-Mobil to Sony. Its new 433-qubit Osprey chip is the world’s most powerful quantum processor, and its speed is greater than the total number of atoms in the known universe. IBM has recognised the importance of sharing in order to build an industry around quantum, and is making some of its technology available for free. It has more than 20 quantum computers available on its open source quantum toolkit Qiskit, which has been downloaded more than 450 000 times.

Quantum computers could open new frontiers in maths and science, and help solve challenges like understanding climate patterns. They could be used to solve problems that are unsolvable with today’s computers, like in logistics and supply chain management. Quantum machine learning could also make huge improvements in data analysis and pattern recognition – whew, as if ML hasn’t already done that. This opens the way to developing new materials, and tracing financial transactions across global financial networks, for example, in money laundering. All the big banks have their own quantum teams exploring what can be done.

The potential industrial uses are limitless, for example creating new car models from scratch, which now takes at least four years. Boeing has been working with IBM’s quantum team since 2020 on designing new materials for its next generation of aircraft. Other problems where quantum computers could be put to use include predicting traffic flow in complex urban environments; and by simulating complex chemical reactions that are impossible to model with normal computers, they could accelerate the discovery of new drugs.

As with any new disruptive technology there are risks, and a major one is security. Today, cybersecurity is based on RSA, an asymmetric cryptography algorithm used to transfer data safely. While a regular computer needs billions of years to crack RSA algorithms, a fast quantum computer would take hours. Today’s encryption algorithms would become obsolete, putting communications, financial transactions and military defences at risk. Another race is on to develop new encryption methods that would be resistant to attacks like this.

Even though it may not be widely accessible or practical for a few years, it looks like quantum computing is set to shake up the world yet again. I give it five years, and we will be talking about quantum computing and qubits like we first did about IIoT, or generative AI.


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Moore Process Controls is moving ahead
Moore Process Controls News
Moore Process Controls was established in South Africa in 1985, migrating from a local agent for Moore Products in the USA to a multi-faceted company with a wide range of automation and optimisation capabilities.

BMG’s machine tools on show at Machine Tools Africa
Bearing Man Group t/a BMG News
BMG will be participating at the Machine Tools Africa exhibition. Its stand will showcase the company’s comprehensive range of quality branded tools and equipment, which has been carefully selected by specialists, to meet the exact requirements of customers in diverse sectors.

Enlit Africa reimagines energy security in Africa
The prestigious Enlit Africa 2024 exhibition has the goal of addressing the very real energy security concerns felt by companies across Africa.

From the editor's desk: The digital deluge
Technews Publishing (SA Instrumentation & Control) News
One of the issues arising out of our newfound ability to generate our own electricity is the ability to store it. BESS systems are the order of the day, and we regularly run stories on this new development. ...

Turck Banner welcomes Ivan De Waal as new managing director
Turck Banner Southern Africa News
Turck Banner Southern Africa is pleased to announce the appointment of Ivan De Waal as its new managing director.

University of Pretoria unveils immersive technology laboratory
The University of Pretoria’s faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology is proud to announce the launch of its new Immersive Technology Lab at the Department of Information Science. This cutting-edge facility marks a significant milestone in the university’s journey towards integrating advanced immersive technologies into its curriculum and research initiatives.

IS3 X-Change 2024 conference
X-Change is an annual gathering of tech enthusiasts, industry leaders and visionaries pushing the boundaries of innovation. Join IS3 for an immersive experience that celebrates the latest in technology and fosters networking opportunities, and discover how your organisation can benefit from AVEVA software and the IS3 industry solution partner ecosystem.

Exploring the role of AI in recruitment
In an era defined by rapid technological advancements, the integration of AI is proving to be transformative across various industries. Thankfully, and in contradiction to what many people believe, AI enhances many functions, rather than replacing real people.

Celebrating three decades of innovation in Africa's premier industrial software conference
With a rich 29-year history, the X-Change User Conference stands as Africa's largest and most prestigious annual gathering dedicated to industrial software and related technology. Hosted by Industry Software Solutions & Support (IS3), this year, X-Change 2024 promises to be even more impactful as it celebrates three decades of innovation and collaboration.

4Sight OT Automation achieves prestigious AVEVA Endorsed Partner status
4Sight OT Automation, a leading industrial software solutions provider, has achieved Endorsed Partner status within the AVEVA Partner Network.