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Jul 18, 2022 2022-07 Accountancy Business Administration Faculty Finance Student

Disruption Lab, EY explore impact of quantum computing on business

The Disruption Lab at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business partnered with Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) on an early project to immerse students in quantum computing and virtual reality (VR), which is expected to transform the future as it enables computations that are not possible with traditional computing capabilities.

For instance, student teams tested how quantum computing could speed options pricing and improve customer interactions with the adoption of virtual agents.

“The development of quantum computing is moving exponentially and holds significant implications for many industries including finance and healthcare,” said Tammy Alairys, EY Americas Consulting Technology Transformation Leader. “Exploring these emerging technologies with students at the Gies College of Business through the Disruption Lab is important as we work together to better understand the potential of these applications and look to shape the next generation of talent pushing these emerging technologies forward.”

The Disruption Lab, launched in 2021, is an interdisciplinary university program operated by Gies that gives students early exposure to emerging technologies and provides industry partners an innovative way to share their expertise and gain new perspectives on disruption forces in their industries.

Quantum computing is a good example of this disruptive change. These computers will ultimately be able to outperform even the best supercomputers on certain tasks because they can process exponentially more data and solve problems more efficiently. Instead of using classical bits 1s or 0s, their power is made up of qubits, which can be a combination of 1s and 0s a property borrowed from quantum physics known as superposition. Today quantum computers only have a few qubits. Quantum computing is projected to cross the threshold of performing meaningful tasks by 2030.

“This project gives students and faculty valuable early exposure. Ability to work with this new technology is extremely limited now,” said Jake Kinsey, an advisor to the Disruption Lab, and the director of Illinois Business Consulting, the largest professionally managed, student-run consulting organization in the US. “The Disruption Lab accelerates the learning curve. In the near term, this will inform how Gies incorporates quantum computing into our curriculum. Down the road, it will revolutionize how we teach finance.”

“There is no doubt that quantum computing is an early-stage technology today. However, the goal of this project is to proactively contribute to our understanding and bring meaning to its application to real-world business problems,” said Alairys.

The Disruption Lab team comprised students from The Grainger College of Engineering on this first step to finding the threshold for quantum supremacy—when an application fares far better than traditional computing. The students were able to write code and deploy models on a quantum level and see the results of their work.

The team analyzed the performance of the quantum option model vs. a traditional computing model to determine if any speed or accuracy gains were observed. Currently, the industry uses Monte Carlo simulation models – an analytical technique used to measure outcome probabilities to inform the pricing of complicated spreads of options – but it is slow, inaccurate, and computationally expensive. While the native random properties of qubits could theoretically show a mathematical improvement over traditional computing hardware, the students were not able to observe quantum supremacy due to the limited number of qubits on current quantum hardware.

Working on this project is one of the most unique experiences I’ve had on campus. I was able to get hands-on exposure to both the business and technology sides of quantum computing,” said Disruption Lab project manager Ashna Arya, a rising junior studying computer science who is interning this summer at a technology company. “I’ve learned that it’s just as important to understand the business problem as it is to understand at a low-level the algorithms and code behind it.”

Arya said this project has given her a primer on quantum computing, and she is looking forward to getting more experience with emerging technologies and exploring the career possibilities related to them. For example, she and several of her computer science classmates have signed up for a new course this fall on blockchain, which is developed and delivered by Gies’ Chief Disruption Officer Robert Brunner.

“Quantum computing is the perfect example of how businesspeople and engineers can collaborate to conquer the huge bottleneck of computing resources and enhance the speed and accuracy of many financial algorithms,” said Arya. “Down the road, it could change the way students are taught to think and approach traditionally computationally expensive problems.”

Kinsey sees this project as an important learning step in demystifying quantum computing, evaluating the landscape of hardware and software players in the field, and attracting grants for faculty who want to do research in this field.

“We hope to continue to collaborate with EY experts and other companies that are part of their ecosystems to working together on models and processes that show the differences between standard and quantum computing output and how to use it in the future,” said Kinsey. “Our goal is to lead the way in how higher education embraces emerging technologies, including quantum computing, and explores their implications on business and, more broadly, society.”

“Now is the time to lay down the strategy to prepare for quantum technology, which translates the principles of quantum physics into technological applications, which are expected to mature over the next decade,” said Azeddine Kasmi, an EY Americas manager in Technology Consulting who worked with the students at the Lab.

EY became the founding partner of the Disruption Lab in 2021 as part of its firm’s purpose – to build a better working world.

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