Taking the Quantum Leap in International Development

Governments in Asia and the Pacific are just beginning to examine how quantum computing can help in development projects. Photo: ADB
Governments in Asia and the Pacific are just beginning to examine how quantum computing can help in development projects. Photo: ADB

By Arun Ramamurthy

Quantum computing could change the face of many international development programs, including those involving transport, financial services and health care.

We are living in a digital transformation age and quantum computing has the potential to transform development operations.

Quantum computing applies quantum physics concepts to computation. In traditional computing systems, the information is stored in bits, which has a binary value of either 0 or 1. In quantum computing, the storage unit is called qubits and it can store 0 and 1 at same time. Quantum computing handles the storage of information and processing like subatomic particles, which can exist in different states at any point in time. Because of this ability, qubits can store more information using less energy.

Quantum computers will not overtake traditional computing, but it will be used to execute the highly complicated tasks that the traditional computational process cannot. The perceivable applications of quantum computing will be in the areas of cyber security, driverless vehicles, financial services and material science.

In case of development economics, the technology will be a driving force in contributing to cyber security, transportation, financial services and healthcare. Asia is a perfect testing ground for these solutions because its populations are keen adopters of new technologies. Countries like Viet Nam, the Philippines, the People’s Republic of China, and India have a strong start up tradition and attracting venture capital could be easy if the underlying regulatory conditions are in place.

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Consider these potential uses for quantum computing:

Cyber security: The technology provides greater resilience to hacking and intrusion threats on national information and communications technology infrastructure. Increased use and need for technology by governments require strong cybersecurity solutions. The 2015 cyber-attack on Ukraine’s power grid systems substantiate the need for world class cyber protection solutions for vital national assets. Similarly, many governments are rolling out national identity systems that need fool-proof cyber security protocols which can be enhanced by quantum computing applications.

Transport: Unlike human eyes, quantum technologies can provide data on circumstances in 360 degrees view in nanoseconds. This makes driverless vehicles much more efficient, more reliable, and much safer. Traffic jams could be better managed also since quantum computing could consider numerous scenarios very rapidly. For example, if roads need to be cleared to make way for an ambulance, quantum computing could help come up with a diversion plan much faster than current systems. This will be increasingly important with rising car ownership in Asia and with cities set to continue to expand apace through to 2050.  That said, ethical issues and human behavioral responses to technology-related changes will have to be considered through suitable regulation. Also, cost and benefit are another consideration.

Financial services:  Due to its enormous computing power, the technology will be a handy tool to solve complex situational decision-making problems and provide optimized solutions in financial services sectors such as bond market decisions and financial risk management activities. Together with artificial intelligence-based ‘big data’ systems, quantum computing can be used to increase the accuracy of results in areas such as stock and bond trading. This will help public sector entities optimize government funds and its investments for social and other spending.

Healthcare: The technology has many applications in the discovery of new molecules and materials. This will find application in the public health space for the treatment of diseases. Through quantum simulations it would be possible to develop a precise radiation plan in treatment of cancers. The technology also finds application in the pharmaceutical industry for research and discovery of new drugs to cure diseases. The technology will help to make healthcare more effective and yield cost benefits by way of contributing to the creation of healthy societies.  Parts of Asia are ageing, and increasing accuracy of treatment helps prioritize medical resources to the targeted population.

 

This technology is niche and like any new technology it is resource intensive. It requires pooling of financial and human resources which warrants attention from national governments. Interventions by governments are needed in skills development, establishing affordable and accessible research and development capabilities for citizens and the other stakeholders.

In this context, the governments can consider developing a quantum computing roadmap and action plan for the country involving its electronics, instrumentation and semiconductor industry, academia, regulatory bodies and software services associations. The roadmap must engage in creating a national foundational platform to develop standards, policy measures, business models including public private partnerships and roll out.

Governments must forge alliances with advanced countries, foreign universities and think tanks having capabilities in this field. Further, they can create an enabling environment by identifying scalable quantum computing demonstration projects in cyber security, transportation, financial services and healthcare services. This technology in its initial adoption stage requires public sector resource spending through subsidies and incentives for influencing the market and creating an innovative new technology sector in the country.

If carefully nurtured and supported, quantum computing could change the way governments work to improve people’s lives.