AIMed believes quantum computing is an area which the medical and healthcare community should look for in this new decade. As mentioned in our previous blog article, classical computers make use of electrical/optical pulses represented by 1 and 0; while quantum computers run on qubits or subatomic particles like electrons and photons. Many believe that since qubits embody many combinations of 1 and 0 at once, they tremendously cut down the amount of time classical computers need to solve certain classes of problems.

At the same time, AIMed also observed a growing number of technology firms raising money from private investors to tap on to the power of this new technology, resulting in what known as a “quantum gold-rush”. Last month, we invited Dr. James M. Dzierzanowski, Executive Director, Innovation and Strategic Advisory Services, Kaiser Permanente to share with us at the AIMed 19 conference on how the new technology will disrupt medicine and healthcare. We spoke with him again recently, to find out more specifically, how should the industry prepares itself for quantum and whether it’s something we should be worrying at the moment.

AIMed: In your opinion, do you think it’s too early to talk about quantum computing in medicine and healthcare, especially some medical professionals are still trying to understand what is artificial intelligence (AI)?

Dr. James M. Dzierzanowski: That’s probably the first question one always gets for quantum computing – is it early? Because many of us regard quantum computing as science fiction which will happen many years down the road. In reality, it’s like any other technology that we have examined. Right now, we are clearly on the very early adopter stage but there will definitely be a technology maturity life-cycle and risks associated with it. These risks could be associated with higher development costs and timelines; an additional price needed to pay in adopting a technology early rather than waiting for it to mature.

Taking AI for example, it was created in the late 1950s and there were no notable successful applications up until successes in the 1980s, shortly thereafter an “AI Winter” kicked in. I would call this Wave One; a phase coupled with hand-crafted knowledge-based systems. I believe we are in Wave Two at the moment, which is sort of the Algorithmic Phase. We have the capabilities to generate a large amount of novel data and the technical skillsets to create algorithms that make these random data meaningful.

However, there remains a lack of explanation facilitated by the Blackbox nature of these algorithms, so I do believe a new Wave Three will come. In this Cognitive Intelligence phase, our world will combine symbolic reasoning and logic that were prevalence during the 1980s with the data pattern matching that algorithms have today to learn, reason together, and make explainable forecasts that are trustworthy in the clinical care space.

As such, I think quantum computing is sort of in the 1950s now and I do believe we will go through a similar wave or life-cycle as AI; with successes and failures before we master good analyses that will support or augment decision-making in the healthcare field.

Dr. James M. Dzierzanowski, Executive Director, Innovation and Strategic Advisory Services, Kaiser Permanente

AIMed: The medicine and healthcare community face many challenges when it comes to AI adoption, do you think quantum computing is going to aggravate some of these challenges?

Dr. Dzierzanowski: To be honest, I am very happy with the work going on in AI. The quantum computing space is definitely challenging but that does not necessarily mean we have a tough or insurmountable path ahead. When we look at the distribution of talent and research, there may be 10 people working on AI and one or two working on quantum these days. If they can combine their expertise and examine interesting problems together, new and valuable research will follow.

If such collaboration takes place, let say, in the pharmaceutical industry, they can look for optimization problems that classical computing techniques cannot solve. So, it’s worthwhile to identify challenges that are extremely limited in today’s classical computer environment and experiment with this new technology.

AIMed: On a positive note, what are some of the benefits quantum computing will bring to medicine and healthcare?

Dr. Dzierzanowski: I can’t specify all at this time but I do believe in the pharmaceutical industry, quantum computing could be used to model molecules; something which is very difficult to achieve in classical computers today. Besides, I believe medical imaging will also benefit from quantum computing.

AIMed: Quantum computing is also likely to change the current state of cryptography for data protection, what are some of your advice for the medical and healthcare industry in dealing with a new wave of unknown?

Dr. Dzierzanowski: This is very interesting and actually, it’s the focus of my responsibility at Kaiser Permanente. If you think about protecting data, especially PHI that has to be stored for a long period of time for healthcare compliance reasons, they may be at risk if the current state of public-key cryptography is compromised. This is especially so when it takes time for standard bodies to develop or recognize new cryptographic encryption and signature algorithms.

So, what I would recommend is to work with various industrial partners and monitor where the status of encryption is going and develop strategic plans that will enable companies to rollover to this new technology. This will include the building and deploying of an inventory of crypto used in production applications. That’s why we called this the “Y2Q” because some of these actions reminded us of the Y2K (i.e., Year 2000 problem) when we have to change all the digital formatting to accommodate the new millennial. Likewise, with quantum computing, it’s likely all our crypto algorithms and anything that has to do with https, will have to be addressed.

This is not something that can be done alone, one will have to work closely with industrial partners and technology providers. They will also have to look internally at the kinds of applications and cryptography that the company is using, to generate and roll out new policies. Ultimately, from a cybersecurity point of view, companies may have to build new networks with data centers, such as building point to point solutions that has very secured links that cannot be disrupted or intercepted. Such crypto and network upgrades are likely to keep a company busy for three to five years, as quantum evolves and application platforms are modernized.

AIMed: Apart from security, are there anything that the medical or healthcare community needs to take note of when they intend to apply quantum computing in the near future?

Dr. Dzierzanowski: At this point, I think it’s an educational awareness. There will be people in the research community that will track the problems and apply quantum computing to it. As I mentioned, the pharmaceutical space being the most promising, closely followed by medical imaging. Those in the medical or healthcare community should be educated and be informed of all development and risks.

AIMed: In that case, how do you foresee quantum computing will turn out in this new decade?

Dr. Dzierzanowski: I believe it will give us more options. The evolution will create a hybrid-computing environment which equipped us with a certain set of technical capabilities and additional tools in our toolboxes to look at the present health challenges. The principle of quantum computational power is not linear but exponential, this gives us a lot more to compute for ill-defined and complex problems.

Quantum computing is totally disruptive because we are not talking about bits anymore, we will be computing based on photons in our future and this is a whole new paradigm. Looking years down the road, we may need a new workforce that deals with it. Fortunately, I begin to see more people coming through University with statistics and data science knowledge, all these skillsets will fit into the application development for quantum in the future.

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Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.