The financial institution explores the potential contributions of quantum computing and validates use cases in view of the upheaval to come. As Wells Fargo CIO Chintan Mehta says, “We can’t miss the possibilities of quantum.”
It was in 2019 that Wells Fargo discovered the potential of quantum computing. At the time, the financial services company was exploring post-quantum cryptography and already supporting research conducted by academic institutions in the field of AI. When IBM began working on quantum, Wells Fargo decided to explore its possibilities. “As we unpacked post-quantum cryptography approaches and what quantum had to offer in general, it became clear that quantum could be applied to use cases, including performing certain transactions of a exponentially more efficiently,” explained Chintan Mehta, CIO for Digital Technology and Innovation at Wells Fargo. The team also identified computational problems that classical computers are unable to solve in a reasonable timeframe and that quantum techniques could potentially solve. “We had seen several possibilities for solving mathematical problems, with the prospect of considerably increasing productivity,” Mr. Mehta recalled.
Today, Wells Fargo collaborates with the MIT-IBM research group to explore and test mathematical calculations with quantum techniques. The experiments focus in particular on approaches to vector mathematics and generalized linear algebra. As an example of a use case, the CIO cites the rapid recalculation of the price of a transaction ledger performed in parallel. It is more effective by relying on the quantum ecosystem. Other use cases may be of interest to the financial industry, for example, leveraging data modeling capabilities to process the complex data structures that fraud detection systems rely on. When they fail, fraud detection mechanisms can delay customer onboarding by weeks. Quantum computing should
significantly reduce processing times. Mehta notes that Wells Fargo focuses on the utility aspects of quantum computing. “We participate in quantum research to help validate use cases in the financial services sector that will benefit. We are not doing pure fundamental research, for example, we are not trying to build a physical quantum infrastructure,” the DSI clarified.
The promises of quantum
Traditional computing relies on binary arithmetic, easily processed by chips. Conventional computers have made progress by cramming more transistors into ever smaller integrated circuits. Quantum computing upsets the rules of the game by using what is called a qubit (the quantum equivalent of a bit), capable of adopting several states other than binary 0 or 1. The power of quantum systems grows exponentially, which means that a theoretical system of 200 qubits will be 2,200 times more powerful than a system of 100 qubits.
Quantum computers could therefore tackle problems that their traditional counterparts simply do not have the capacity to solve, for example, complex multivariate problems based on probabilities and the modeling of hypothetical scenarios. They could help solve problems like those with driver assistance apps, when it comes to choosing alternatives to congested routes that then create new traffic jams. Traffic optimization by quantum computing makes it possible to solve it by calculating all the possibilities at the same time. A large neural network, the basis of many advanced calculations across industries, depends on linear algebra calculations to train billions of nodes. “Quantum computing is accelerating this process exponentially,” Mehta said. “It will only take a few minutes to set up a global network compared to several days today,” he added.
“Despite the promise of quantum technology, one of the challenges of working with this technology is the many unknowns,” Mehta noted. “There is still a huge gap between the quantum capabilities we imagine and what it can actually do, especially when it comes to solving higher-order mathematical operations,” he said. yet explained. Adding that for the moment, “nothing is known about the stability of these operations, nor about the expected repeatability of a computer construction, all of this is fundamentally absent from the current quantum. You can run a calculation multiple times and potentially get different answers each time.” This is a source of concern. “We are in a phase where simulation is much more advanced than the actual physical quantum computer,” Mehta said.
The other unknown is whether the technology will evolve as expected. Mr. Mehta compares quantum technology to artificial intelligence: “In the case of AI, we knew the technology worked, but we didn’t know if a user could be sure that a specific model would work in the context of his business,” he said. “In the case of quantum computing, the probability of failure is higher because nothing has been proven and there is no common baseline to measure success,” said he added. What would success look like for Wells Fargo? “It will be more about hitting big milestones than getting very specific results,” Mehta said. “Will we be able to do multiple simulations? Fourier transforms? Differential calculus? There will be several steps before moving from very basic discrete mathematics to more sophisticated calculations,” he added. The ultimate goal for Wells Fargo is to have “a good library of mathematical capabilities from which we can build a use case,” said the CIO.
Prepare the terrain
Because the measure of success in quantum computing is consistently checking off a list, Mehta advises companies to commit to a small but long-term program. “Companies can’t spend all their money on it, but they can do research consistently,” he advised. The fallout is huge, but will only be noticeable a long time away. James Sanders, analyst at 451 Research, also advises to be patient and play for the long term. Sanders, who is part of 451 Research’s S&P Global Market Intelligence team, says companies need to start building software now. “Now is the time to start investigating potential problems that the business cannot address today due to a lack of computing power,” Sanders said. “It’s time to take stock of the problems that could be addressed by quantum computing,” he added.
This inventory work is the first of five tips for companies formulated by the SSII Capgemini so that they prepare to take advantage of the quantum advantage. “This assessment is essential. It takes data scientists and business experts to identify industry and business problems that cannot be solved by traditional computers and that quantum computing could solve,” said Satya Sachdeva, Vice President insights and data at Capgemini. The firm also recommends building a small team of experts, translating the most interesting use cases into small-scale quantum experiments, entering into long-term partnerships with technology providers to overcome technical obstacles, and develop a long-term strategy to increase their skills. According to Lian Jye Su, principal analyst at global technology watch firm ABI Research, companies looking to get started are spoiled for choice. “Public cloud players like Alibaba, Amazon, Google, and IBM provide services for researchers to run quantum programs and experiments remotely,” Su said. Developers can now build quantum applications using IBM’s Qiskit, Google’s Cirq, Amazon Braket, and others, all of which are “open-source libraries designed for optimizing quantum circuits for quantum-classical or quantum only, including machine learning,” Su said. “All of these services are available online.”
The pioneer advantage
Experts believe that in the long term quantum computing and classical computing will coexist, and that some processes will be handed over to quantum computing before being reintegrated into classical computing. Capgemini’s Mr. Sachdeva says now is a good time for companies to get started. “Early adopters will have an advantage over others, and companies that delay too long will lose that advantage,” he said. As for Wells Fargo, the financial institution is maintaining its quantum program slowly. According to Mehta, CIOs must ensure that all advanced research projects are carried out concurrently. “We must continue to improve other non-quantum capabilities, whether specialized cloud-based infrastructures or other technologies, in parallel,” Mehta recommended. “When quantum computing materializes and computing capabilities converge, this step will be both very disruptive, but very positive.” It’s time to prepare for this disruption, as Wells Fargo is doing. “We think quantum computing is where classical computing was 30 or 40 years ago,” Mehta said. “That said, it will evolve much faster than anything we have experienced before. We cannot stay away from such an upheaval. This technology is decisive for the future”.
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Wells Fargo prepares for the quantum leap Computerworld
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