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Quant(um) questions

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 38 Autumn 2015

The Netherlands is home to one of the world's leading technology research centres on quantum computing. Amid rumours Renaissance Technologies* is hiring from just such departments, Automated Trader decided to check in and see where the technology is at and what it implies for markets.

Harry Buhrman, University of Amsterdam

Harry Buhrman, University of Amsterdam

"...for certain problems the community has found algorithms that seem to be much more efficient, much faster than any classical algorithm."

For those who don't know, quantum computing is on the path of gaining huge advantages in speed over conventional computers, achieved by carrying out massive parallel computations simultaneously.

It has significant implications for the global economy, particularly for industries coping with computational bulk in an era of big data in sectors such as financial markets, cyber security, and data base management, for example.

And figuring out exactly which problems quantum algorithms are going to be able to solve is a job for Harry Buhrman, group leader for Algorithms and Complexity at the Centre for Mathematics and Computer Science in the University of Amsterdam.

Quantum algorithms are especially well suited for calculating factors for big numbers. What used to take tens of thousands of years now takes minutes. Meanwhile, the world's encryption technology relies on such numbers taking too much time to hack into using brute force tactics.

Quantum computing has potential applications for exactly those types of problems for which there are no known fast algorithms, meaning that solving them would take exponential time. But which problems those are is still a research field in development.

To explain, Buhrman uses an example of finding routes to get places between cities. Calculating the shortest distance between two points is easy, but calculating the longest route takes longer than the age of the universe for relatively small instances.

"There are two ways in speeding up problems. One is buying a faster computer and the other is by coming up with smarter algorithms," Buhrman said.

And just buying more computer power doesn't exactly solve the issue for problems that take the age of the universe to solve, if you just cut the runtime in half.

*A spokesperson for Renaissance Technologies did not reply to questions at time of publication.

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