Quantum Computing & Optimization

Why is Quantum Computing Interesting?

A quantum computer operates in a fundamentally different way to conventional (so called "classical") computers. The key point is that this allows certain types of calculation to be done much faster than on conventional computers.

Depending on the calculation being done, the speed-up can vary from "nothing at all" to "worth having" to "game changing". For some tasks a quantum computer is no better than a conventional computer, while for other tasks the quantum computer allows us to solve problems that are essentially impossible to solve on conventional machines.

In particular, quantum computing could allow faster and better solutions to the optimization problems that MJC² tackles. For example a quantum algorithm could allow a large logistics company to save millions of dollars by creating better schedules for its trucks and drivers.

What is a Quantum Computer?

Briefly, a quantum computer relies on what is known as the superposition principle. A conventional computer has "registers" which allow information to be stored. For example, a particular register might be set to represent the number "200". Another register might be set to represent the number "152", and so on - in a modern computer there are billions of these registers.

The point is that, in a conventional computer, each register can only store one number at a time e.g. either 200 or 152. This sounds fairly obvious, but actually a quantum computer allows each register to be a mixture of many different numbers at the same time. For example, the register could be "partially 200 and partially 152". i.e. it is in a "superposition of 200 and 152".

In fact it can be any combination of numbers, all at the same time. For example, if a register can represent any number from 0-1000, then in a quantum computer the register could be set up so that it is a mixture of all numbers from 0-1000 at the same time.

More importantly, when the computer does a calculation using the contents of the register as an input, a single calculation creates a mixture of all the 1000 answers simultaneously.

This sounds great, but unfortunately, the way quantum computers work means that it is not possible to simply read off all 1000 answers. However by doing some clever manipulation of the system it is possible to benefit from this superposition of all the 1000 answers, extracting useful information which, in some cases, can make a calculation 1000s of times (or more) faster.

Why is MJC² developing Quantum Computing Algorithms?

As mentioned above, one of the most promising applications for quantum computing is solving logistics and manufacturing scheduling problems, which is MJC²'s core competence. We have always been at the leading edge of the market, developing algorithms which address very large planning and scheduling problems.

The possible performance enhancements offered by quantum computing are very exciting, and we believe they could offer massive tangible benefits for our customers, saving literally millions of dollars by creating even better logistics and manufacturing schedules.

Quantum computing is still in the very early stages of development. Existing quantum computers, although very impressive in terms of the technology used to realise them, are only just starting to be usable for real-world applications. However progress is rapid and we are researching algorithms and techniques that will be required to exploit the future generations of quantum computers.

 

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