Super Fast Computing

Superfast quantum computers could transform the world of finance, advocates say.

In a world where how fast you can assimilate and analyze data then act on it, makes the difference between profit and loss, computing speed is key.

This is why banks, insurance firms, and hedge funds invest millions on technology to give them an edge when trading, and to offset human error. 

Quantum computers, that owe more to quantum mechanics than electronics, promise to be exponentially more powerful than traditional computers, holding out the tantalizing prospect of near-perfect trading strategies and highly accurate forecasting and risk assessments.

"Financial services is a data-rich environment," says Kevin Hanley, director of design at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). "Time is money and the ability to process data fast could have a huge potential benefit for our customers." 

Classical computing relies on binary digits or bits - ones and zeros representing on/off, true/false states.

Quantum computing, on the other hand, features qubits, which can be both 0 or 1 at the same time - a state known as superposition. It all goes back to Schrodinger's cat, but that's another story....

Subatomic particles such as electrons, photons or ions can be made to behave in this mysterious way.

And because of this flexibility, qubits can do a lot more - a quantum computer could theoretically carry out trillions of calculations per second.

But these computers aren't easy to build or operate. Quantum processors from one of the leading manufacturers in this field - D-Wave - need to be cooled to just above absolute zero (-273.15C). They also need to be free from any electromagnetic interference.

This makes them bulky and costly; D-Wave's computers cost about $10m-15m.

Ironically they're also a bit limited in the kinds of calculations they can currently do, and many observers are still sceptical about how fast they really are.

So it's fair to say we're still at the very early stages of quantum computing.

Goldman Sachs, RBS, Guggenheim Partners and Commonwealth Bank of Australia have all invested in quantum computing, with the aim of stealing a march on their competitors.

"This is interesting to the financial world because if you can find an algorithmic advantage to solve a problem, that can give you a great competitive advantage," says Colin Williams, director of business development for D-Wave.

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