What is quantum computing and what could it mean for the healthcare industry?


One of the longest hype curves in technology history — without products even being deployed — is that of quantum computing. After decades of research, many feel that viable and reliable quantum products may not be to market for another ten years.

For those who have heard the term but are sketchy on what quantum actually means, welcome to the party. Few have really demystified what it is. So what is quantum computing and why is it important? I’ll try to outline the basics:

The computer or device you’re reading this blog on operates in binary code which is essentially ones or zeros. The processors turn on and off depending on whether its reading a one or zero in the code. The traditional computer cannot process both at the same time and, if it does, it usually means a call to the help desk.

On the other hand, the quantum computer operates with processing units called Qubits. Too much explanation of how Qubits are created will make your eyes glaze over, so let’s just say that Qubits are able to process ones and zeros at the same time at exponential speeds.

Perhaps even more surrealistic, it can also add logic to the period where it is still “deciding” on certain outcomes. The analogy here would be doing analysis of a flipped coin before it lands heads or tails. It’s essentially preparing for multiple outcomes before the final decision (coin landing on table). Some would argue that these processing efficiencies make the difference between binary and quantum computing similar to that between a tricycle and a Formula 1 race car.

Many vendors claim that they are approaching quantum supremacy, but some argue that broader scaling of quantum is still a ways off — largely because Moore’s Law hasn’t kept pace like it used to do with desktop processors.

Regardless, healthcare futurists see this massive processing power completely changing the landscape of such areas as cancer research, precision medicine and drug development.

This “quantum leap” in processing speed will have a massive effect on such aspects of healthcare as: increasing the resolution and accuracy of medical images for remote diagnosis; increasing data speed to point of care for enhanced clinical decision support, and providing deeper insights on the selection of clinical trial candidates by integrating complex social determinants and clinical considerations in a fraction of the time.

The incredibly high speeds of Formula One race cars have advantages and risks, and this is a caution many proffer for quantum computing as well. While quantum’s hyper speed is a clear advantage, many security experts see it as a potential problem as well — with security breaches and hacks transmitted at that same accelerated speed. In other words, we cannot have binary cybersecurity strategies in a world of quantum hackers.

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