Ask an MIT Professor: Why Your Business Should Build a Quantum-Ready Workforce Now
The quantum computing revolution is coming—will your organization be ready for it?
Advancements in quantum computing have made it increasingly relevant in recent years, with potential applications for quantum computing spanning everything from developing pharmaceutical drugs to optimizing manufacturing supply chains to disrupting public-key cryptography.
However, despite the promise quantum computing holds, few companies are investing in building a quantum-ready workforce.
We recently sat down with MIT Professor Will Oliver, faculty director of MIT xPRO’s Quantum Computing Fundamentals program, to hear his insights on why organizations should be proactive about quantum computing training.
How can businesses benefit from building a quantum-ready workforce now?
The concept of quantum computation can trace its origins to a conference held at MIT’s Endicott House in 1981. But it wasn’t until the last decade or so that it has started to transition from laboratory curiosity to technical reality.
While Professor Oliver is transparent that quantum computing cannot yet solve problems at scale, he notes that there is a clear pathway to getting there. As the hardware matures, quantum computers will eventually vastly outperform conventional “classical” computers for certain (not all) tasks of commercial relevance. Organizations that proactively ready themselves for this eventuality will be best positioned to thrive.
Here are four benefits of building a quantum-ready workforce now:
1. Mitigate risk and prevent surprises
“People tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in a period of 1-2 years. Similarly, they tend to underestimate what will happen in 10 years,” says Professor Oliver. “The idea that this technology will always be decades away is a risky stance for any business to take.”
In becoming quantum-ready, organizations can avoid feeling surprised or blindsided by what’s to come.
2. Develop quantum-inspired algorithms to create performance advantages
Professionals with quantum skills can leverage those skills today to create quantum-inspired tensor-network-based algorithms that run on conventional computers and can create significant performance advantages for businesses.
“Through MIT’s quantum-industrial membership group, some of our students have developed these types of algorithms in conjunction with researchers at BMW, for example, addressing important optimization problems of relevance to them,” notes Professor Oliver.
3. Ensure long-term protection of encrypted information
One of the first quantum algorithms that showed exponential improvement for an important problem—cryptanalysis—is Shor’s algorithm, named after MIT quantum computing expert and MIT xPRO Quantum Computing Fundamentals program contributor Peter Shor.
Shor’s algorithm attacks the public-key cryptosystem widely used today for internet communication, explains Professor Oliver. We don’t yet have a quantum computer large enough to attack our current cryptosystems. However, with the advent of a fault-tolerant quantum computer (still yet to be seen), assets that are now deemed secure will become vulnerable.
“Businesses likely have encrypted information that they will want to remain secure for 10-20 years or more into the future. It then becomes a risk analysis: companies need to compare that timeframe with the timeframe for when they expect quantum computing to take hold. In parallel, the US Government is currently working towards standardizing post-quantum cryptosystems that we believe to be immune to attack by quantum computers,” advises Professor Oliver. He encourages companies to conduct their own risk-benefit analyses to determine their sense of urgency.
“Having quantum-smart people on your team is critical to making this determination and taking the next steps,” says Professor Oliver.
4. Filter out the hype
Every day, there seems to be news of a groundbreaking discovery in quantum computing. Organizations must be able to filter out the hype and focus on the developments that have real business implications. They can only do that with quantum-smart people in their workforce.
How should businesses begin preparing their teams for the future of quantum computing?
Business leaders may wonder how aggressively to prepare their workforce with quantum computing training, and Professor Oliver has some practical advice to share.
“At this point, you want to be aware of what quantum computing can do for your company. Each company has different problems they’re trying to solve. You don’t need to necessarily bet the farm and start a full division focused on quantum computing. On the other hand, if you wait for your competitors to make the first moves, you’ll be behind the curve,” cautions Professor Oliver.
Professor Oliver recommends forming a small team of people who can come together to understand how quantum computing will impact your company’s bottom line in the future. Start understanding and developing the kinds of algorithms that will be relevant once the hardware matures.
It’s worth noting that small-to-midsize business leaders with tight budgets can save significant money by investing in online quantum computing training for their current employees instead of bringing in new employees who already specialize in quantum computing.
What elements of quantum computing should be included in a workforce training plan?
Professor Oliver notes that, like every field or discipline, quantum computing has its own distinct jargon, and it’s important to start by learning that jargon.
“We created the MIT xPRO Quantum Computing Fundamentals program in large part to help educate professionals on the fundamentals and essentials of quantum computing,” says Professor Oliver.
Learners won’t necessarily come out of the two courses in this program knowing how to write groundbreaking algorithms. Rather, they'll gain a better appreciation for the challenges and opportunities associated with quantum computing, understand how a quantum computer differs from a conventional computer, and be able to distinguish what a quantum computer can and can’t do for their organization. And in each course, students will program for themselves a known quantum algorithm on one of the IBM quantum computers and see the results.
What role does online education play in upskilling the quantum computing workforce?
“Many learners who take the Quantum Fundamentals program already have master’s degrees or PhDs in fields outside quantum computing. And while two 4-week courses can’t fully replace a years-long quantum computing program, they certainly do help professionals with their own specialized training begin to learn the quantum domain and how to connect their own unique skills,” says Professor Oliver.
If you’re ready to build a quantum-ready workforce, explore MIT xPRO’s Quantum Computing Fundamentals course. We offer corporate learning discounts for groups of 10 or more!