Quantum leaps, or why I am looking forward to the future
Banking no longer has the luxury of getting up to speed with new technology. If you can’t adapt on the fly you’ll be left behind.
Two weeks ago I anchored a whole day dedicated to quantum computing, on the Innotribe stage at SIBOS. A full day of physicists talking at bankers about things weird and wonderful. From Moore’s law to the concept of sharing hardware, the conversation was futuristic and uncomfortable for the bankers. Which is just how I wanted it.
I don’t enjoy other people’s misery but within banks, when presented with the need to make decisions around things that are not yet definite and profitable, we only make decisions from a place of discomfort. So discomfort is what I was after.
Not because quantum is the next burning platform. We are a good 10-20 years away from that.
But because banking no longer has the luxury of taking the time to get comfortable by getting fully up to speed with new technology. If you can’t adapt on the fly you’ll be left behind. Not by quantum. Way, way before that.
Quantum computing is still experimental and although great progress is being made, when it comes to use cases, the scientists are finding it hard to bring the opportunity to life. All examples sound like way too much investment and heartache to get an incremental improvement on the way we do business now. But then they speak to you about the early days of experimenting with flight and you can’t help your eyes lighting up.
The first time man managed to get and remain airborne, it was to cross a field. Surely walking is cheaper and less hassle. But that was not the point. What becomes possible when the physical barriers are overcome is a wonder of human enterprise that we can’t anticipate.
This is where we are, with quantum computing: we are beginning to fly across a field. What is possible next, remains to be seen and marvelled at.
Great. But not very specific.
So, as the bankers in the audience sat transfixed, and they did, not even checking their email or their watches for the next meeting, what did they choose to take away? A call to action? A sense of urgency? A promise of greater speed and accuracy, putting today’s technology to shame?
As things stand, banks today are not at the bleeding edge of what is possible technologically.
Internal risk and compliance, sunk costs and legacy investments mean that banks grapple with their legacy behaviours and infrastructure. We are slower and clunkier than what is possible. Quantum will just have to get in line on that one.
Sure, quantum computing will allow us to connect the universe and synthesise information and allow us to do things differently but really AI is meant to do that to a certain extent and we are yet to reap industry-altering benefits, mostly because we are still struggling to clean up the data to feed the model to generate the insight to drive the revelation to change business.
We are busy. Trying to understand. Trying to overhaul. Trying to keep up.
There is a lot going on. DLT, open APIs or Machine Learning, you name it, something new is thrown into the mix every five minutes and discussions such as ‘we are doing a thing with big data’ are becoming commonplace. Nonsensical, but commonplace.
We frame a project around the tech, we put it in the lab. The business case to follow. We find comfort through learning and doing as little as possible.
If quantum computing is to change the world, it seems, it will have to start from our way of thinking. Because what the physicists made abundantly clear is that we will not be able to find comfort through learning on this one. Unless we are all about to go out and get a couple of degrees in physics. And then we may still not get it.
We need to get away from the idea that bankers and CEOs need to go to school to learn about the latest technologies. Sure a higher degree of technical literacy is needed but really it is capabilities that need to be understood.
What is possible.
The CEO’s job is to leverage what is possible to drive business. And all the new stuff are making that piece incredibly difficult. The temptation to delay decision-making until ‘we know more’ is great but misguided. Things are getting complicated. And scientific progress won’t slow down to our board room’s speed of learning.
In any case, if digital transformation and other emerging technologies haven’t made us realise we don’t need to learn everything, quantum computing will. The technical minutiae are so complex we won’t understand any of it without doing a degree. Or three. So we need to be comfortable with the idea that we need experts in this field to inform us properly.
Quantum, definitely. But not exclusively.
Learning to rely on experts who can build to deliver your business vision is a new kind of partnership, intimacy and vulnerability. That is what we need to learn. Not how quantum computing actually works.
It’s a little bit scary to accept, but the people who will guide you to those possibilities are not bankers. They’re the experts who, right now, are figuring out what this brings to the table. They are the people who are telling us that we will have to learn how to share. Because the idea of owning the hardware outright seemed crazy to the scientists. And the idea of not owning it seemed even crazier to the bankers.
One way to bridge that gap is partnering now. To invest in RnD. But that kind of forethought is not how we roll and nor should it be.
As a consumer, you want your bank solving today’s problems for tomorrow’s hopes. Rather than banks stretching inadequate budgets further than they can conceivably go. When that happens, something will have to give and we don’t want that to be our pension or mortgage underwriting.
So if not immediate action, what should the bankers take away from a full day’s physics lectures? The fact that thinking through how to integrate quantum computing with banking is a task that requires bankers and experts to work together and imagine. Imagination is vital to the future of the industry. And humanity.
And that is a quantum leap if there ever was one.