My interest is always piqued when I see a news story about the CERN laboratory in Geneva. Thousands of scientists are stationed underground, discovering “God particles” and other amazing feats of high-energy physics. It’s a reminder of what lies beyond our everyday “seen world.”
Similarly locked behind secure doors, but coming “soonish” to a cloud near you, are quantum computers poised to yield real-world applications exponentially more powerful than today. We’re talking cognitive orchestration, persistent risk management and customer precognition — not just breakthroughs sparking happy-hour buzz at theoretical physics conferences.
What is quantum computing and how is it different from traditional computing?
Per Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing is a type of non-classical computing that operates on the quantum state of subatomic particles. The particles represent information as elements denoted as quantum bits (qubits). A qubit can represent all possible values simultaneously (superposition) until read. Qubits can be linked with other qubits, a property known as entanglement. Quantum algorithms manipulate linked qubits in their undetermined, entangled state, a process that can address problems with vast combinatorial complexity.
In more practical terms, this means the ability to compute at a level vastly exceeding classical machines. Some say that quantum computers will eventually crack current RSA encryption, a feat that would take today’s computers longer than the current age of our universe to accomplish.
What might be possible in supply chain with this new level of computing power?
With a little bit of extrapolation and imagination, some interesting supply chain use cases emerge.
Cognitive Orchestration — When coupled with low-cost sensors and the ability to control assets in the field, a quantum computing engine could finally achieve the vision of a cognitive supply chain. Supplier shipment’s late, customer changed their mind on that order, or a line just went down in one of your factories? The algorithms monitoring demand and supply and providing prescriptive direction on the most optimal response can reroute, replan and reallocate on the fly. Does the latest change seem implausible? The quantum-based system can test and continuously improve data quality based on known issues, learned from the past, and reach out to signal generators to validate accuracy, as needed. Communication of changes can be made to customers, employees and suppliers at a desired cadence and/or based on event triggers.
Persistent Risk Management — Imagine today’s risk monitoring solutions on steroids. Political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal events can be fed into a super-size data lake that the quantum engine runs algorithms against. Supplier risk models could be much more precise. Latency between disruptive events, evaluation of response options and actual responses could be brought close to zero. The system could also be used to run demand simulations, predicting whether some customers or products will fall below desired profitability levels based on volumes, velocity and variety.
Customer Precognition — A quantum-based solution could instantaneously recognize causal patterns such as economic trends, events, weather and other factors, driving aggregate demand for products higher or lower. More interestingly, it can become a form of precognition on what consumers think, need and plan to do. As consumers, we leave a lot of digital breadcrumbs in our daily lives: where we travel with our smartphones, how we interact with websites and what we say on social media. A quantum computing engine could quickly run algorithms against this mass of data to understand and anticipate individual consumer needs, offering assistance along the way. This should (IMHO) be opt-in for individuals who value convenience over privacy.
A Quantum Brain + a Human Heart
So will the machines just take care of everything and let us humans veg out like the dystopian Earth ship passengers in the movie, “Wall-E”? Hardly. Machines will never truly show empathy or relate to shared experiences with humans. We must also ensure that ethical considerations are built into our quantum algorithms. Perhaps letting the machines cover the “basics” will free us up to better take care of our customers, our planet and, more generally, one another.
Are you ready to make the leap?
VP Distinguished Advisor,
Gartner Supply Chain