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The meaning of quantum

Three perspectives on working within the quantum sector

As part of our series of interviews with Capgemini colleagues working in quantum, we spoke to experts Clément Brauner, Iftikhar Ahmed, and Franziska Wolff about what the technology means to them.

The legendary theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said: “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”

In reality, Feynman probably understood quantum physics better than most people alive at that time. But he was making a point: the quantum universe is mysterious, complex, and counterintuitive.

Describing quantum systems and explaining how they might change the world is, therefore, no easy task. But for Clément Brauner, managing consultant in emerging technologies and quantum at Capgemini Invent, Iftikhar Ahmed, senior business enterprise architect at Capgemini, and Franziska Wolff, quantum technology consultant and project manager with Capgemini Engineering, it’s all in a day’s work.    

The quantum conundrum

“We’ve been living in the quantum age for almost a century,” says Clément, whose background is in engineering. “Thanks to advances in quantum computing, we’re now on the cusp of the second quantum revolution. It’s my job to help clients find opportunities and prepare for the evolution of this fascinating field.”
To this end, Clément is continually finding novel ways to explain the potential of this technology to clients and colleagues. “The most common question I get asked is, ‘what is the difference between quantum and classical computers?’”

To this end, Clément is continually finding novel ways to explain the potential of this technology to clients and colleagues. “The most common question I get asked is, ‘what is the difference between quantum and classical computers?’”

Listen to Clément

“I explain that the most fundamental unit of classical computing, the ‘bit,’ can only represent a zero or a one. However, quantum computing’s alternative, the ‘qubit,’ can represent any point between a zero and a one, meaning it can store and process much more information.”

Enter the quantum labyrinth

Iftikhar likes to use a slightly different metaphor.
“Let’s suppose you ask a classical computer a question,” he says. “Imagine that, to discover the answer, the computer sends a single ‘dot’ through a labyrinth to find the exit. Each time it hits a dead end, it has to return to the start. A quantum computer, however, will solve the problem by sending hundreds of dots through the labyrinth all at the same time. Many will reach dead ends, but one will find the exit – much faster than a classical computer.”

For Franziska, who has a PhD in theoretical chemical biology and has also conducted postdoctoral research in the subject, the meaning of quantum is best described through its potential.

Listen to Franziska

“What people really need to know about quantum computing is that it is a new technology that really helps us to understand more about our world. There is a lot of talk about quantum, and some people may say there is too much hype about it, and that a quantum computer won’t solve all our problems. That’s true, but it really is a tool that can speed up our research and development, so we understand better what’s happening out there. The potential is huge – and we are only at the beginning of the journey.”

World-changing applications

Iftikhar came to the field with a background in engineering. “I love finding solutions to problems. That’s why I studied mechanical engineering at university. Now, with my work in quantum, I’m looking for solutions for problems that might not currently exist.”   

Listen to Iftikhar

Iftikhar stresses that although quantum technology could indeed be revolutionary, its potential – to paraphrase science fiction writer William Gibson – is not evenly distributed. “Quantum will be very useful to help with some specific problems,” he says. “We may see the biggest leaps forward in areas such as life sciences and physical materials because these involve fundamentally natural (and therefore quantum mechanical) processes.”

Inventing quantum vaccines

With a background in life sciences and computational chemistry, Franziska agrees.
“For me, one of the many exciting things about quantum is how in the future it will be able to help us accurately describe proteins in much greater detail than has previously been possible. Using quantum to simulate how drugs interact with the proteins will help us develop new drugs faster and better.

Clément also enthuses about quantum’s potential for drug discovery. “Today, a new medicine can take 10 years to develop at a cost of around €1 billion per year. However, because quantum computing is better at simulating those molecular interactions, it could massively cut down the timescales involved.”

Tackling climate change

The Capgemini colleagues all agree that quantum computing could also have a major role in the fight against climate change by optimizing renewable energy generation.

“The field of metallurgy design – involved in the construction of photovoltaic cells – is currently constrained by the number of parameters that conventional computers can use in their modelling,” says Clément. “Quantum computers will allow us to add in vastly more parameters, which means our outcomes will more accurately reflect physical reality. This could tremendously improve the efficiency of our solar panels, for example.”

“Another example is that being able to simulate the precise properties of a battery cell could help us optimize batteries for aerospace and space exploration,” adds Franziska.

Towards quantum advantage

Far from being a distant dream, it may only be a few years before the next quantum age is upon us, says Iftikhar. “Fault-tolerant quantum computers may be a reality as soon as 2030. At this point, we will have reached ‘quantum advantage’ – when quantum computers exceed the capabilities of classical computers across a range of applications.”

While he also welcomes these developments, Clément sounds a note of caution. “History shows us that new technologies can bring unforeseen problems; for example, the enormous energy consumption required by advanced computing. So, while we are always trying to push to create useful solutions, we must always think carefully to understand the impact on ourselves and the planet.”

For all three, quantum remains a fascinating frontier technology with the potential to solve problems we haven’t even dreamt of yet, equally baffling and compelling researchers and scientists.

And even Richard Feynman would agree with that.

Inside stories


Capgemini’s Quantum Lab enables clients to understand the future of quantum tech and develop strategies to make it a reality