the first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics [technologyreview.com]. So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines.
Quantum computers, which represent data using quantum-mechanical effects apparent at tiny scales, should be able to perform computations impossible for any conventional computer. Recent advances on hardware that might be used to build them has led to a flurry of investment from companies including Microsoft, Intel, Google, and IBM (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017: Practical Quantum Computers”).
“From the point of view of what is theoretically proven, chemistry is ahead,” says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer for the IBM division that today sells hardware including supercomputers and hopes to add cloud-hosted quantum computers to its product line-up in the next few years. “We have more confidence in the smaller systems for chemistry.”
Researchers have long used simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts. The tactic can reduce time spent on physical experiments and scientific dead ends, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the workload of the world’s supercomputers.
Nah, the first use of quantum computers ought to be to really bring clean coal to market.