Quantum technology

Why is quantum computing useful for optimization problems?

Quantum computing is an exciting new field that leverages the strange properties of quantum mechanics to perform calculations in radically new ways. In particular, quantum computers have the potential to solve complex optimization problems more efficiently than classical computers.

What are optimization problems?

Optimization problems seek to find the maximum or minimum value from a set of candidate solutions. These problems abound in fields like finance, transportation, manufacturing, machine learning, and more.

Why are optimization problems hard to solve?

Many real-world optimization problems have an extremely large number of potential solutions. Evaluating all combinations to find the true optimum becomes practically impossible, even with the fastest supercomputers.

How do classical algorithms tackle optimization?

Classical optimization algorithms use heuristics to iteratively narrow down the options. But these algorithms cannot guarantee finding the global optimum, and easily get stuck in local optima.

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What makes these problems suitable for quantum computing?

Quantum computers can assess many options simultaneously in superposition. This allows them to traverse the search space intelligently and determine the optimum much faster.

Key areas where quantum computing shines for optimization


Portfolio optimization, asset pricing, risk analysis, etc. gain tremendously with quantum techniques. JPMorgan has already built quantum algorithms for these applications.

Machine Learning

Training complex ML models involves optimizing high dimensional spaces riddled with local optima. D-Wave and Google are leveraging quantum computers for ML model optimization.

Traffic optimization

Determining optimal routes and flows in transport networks with dynamic constraints is incredibly hard classically. Volkswagen uses quantum systems for traffic flow optimization.

Aeronautical engineering

Designing airfoils and minimizing drag coefficients classically requires evaluating numerous shape configurations. NASA and Lockheed Martin use quantum computing for aerospace optimizations.

Drug discovery

Finding promising molecular configurations for drugs involves intractable search spaces. Quantum techniques like QC Ware’s Filtering Variational Quantum Eigensolver algorithm excel here.

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Battery development

Determining optimal compositions and geometries for batteries needs assessing innumerable chemical combinations. Quantum computing provides a big advantage.

Cloud computing

Optimizing workload distribution across thousands of servers to ensure high throughput and low latency is incredibly complex. Quantum algorithms offer a more efficient approach.

Manufacturing optimizations

Quantum computing allows manufacturers to optimize supply chains, logistics, staff allocation and countless other parameters to minimize costs and maximize production.

Real-world examples of quantum computing for optimization

Volkswagen – Traffic optimization

Volkswagen uses D-Wave’s quantum computer to optimize traffic flow based on real-time data from vehicles in 10 Italian cities. This reduces commute times and carbon emissions.

JPMorgan – Portfolio optimization

JPMorgan developed a quantum algorithm to optimize asset trade execution across portfolios. Their quantum approach outperformed classical optimizations by orders of magnitude.

Menten AI – Drug discovery

Menten AI uses quantum algorithms on IonQ’s trapped ion quantum computers to explore molecular configurations for drug discovery. This speeds up development of life saving drugs.

The advantages of quantum computing over classical techniques

Exponentially faster

Certain optimization problems would take the age of the universe for even the fastest supercomputers to solve. Quantum computers provide an exponential speedup, delivering solutions in reasonable times.

Finds true global optimum

Quantum optimization algorithms assess many options at once, allowing them to determine the optimum value rather than get stuck in local maxima/minima.

More dimensions analyzeable

Quantum computers can handle optimization problems with a million dimensions or more. Classical techniques struggle beyond a few hundred dimensions due to exploding computational resource requirements.

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No approximations needed

Classical techniques usually find approximate solutions. But quantum algorithms can uncover actual optimal solutions for previously intractable problems.

Runs complex simulations

Quantum computers can efficiently run complex simulations of molecular, financial, climatic and other processes to generate optimized solutions.

Leverages quantum parallelism

Quatum parallelism allows quantum processors to evaluate vast numbers of solutions simultaneously to exponentially speed up optimizations.

Will quantum computing make classical techniques obsolete?

While quantum computing offers significant advantages, classical techniques continue to be improved and expanded. Hybrid algorithms combining quantum and classical methods provide the most efficient approach to tackle optimization problems. Rather than competing, quantum and classical computing will complement each other.

The outlook for quantum optimization in the years ahead

As quantum processors scale up and algorithms become more sophisticated, previously impossible optimization problems across domains like finance, healthcare, energy, defense, and more will become solvable. With quantum computing entering the nascent stage of commercialization in 2024, practical applications should proliferate within the next 5 years. This will fundamentally transform operational research and business decision making.


Quantum computing delivers an exponential speedup over classical techniques for a wide variety of optimization challenges. By assessing an incredible number of potential solutions concurrently in superposition, quantum algorithms can find true global optimums that provide tremendous advantages. Real-world examples are already demonstrating magnitude level improvements in critical business optimization problems. While classical computing also continues to advance, quantum and classical techniques will co-evolve to tackle ever more complex optimization problems.


What is the key principle that allows quantum systems to solve optimizations faster?

Quantum superposition enables quantum processors to represent and evaluate a massive number of potential solutions simultaneously. This exponential parallelism provides the speedup.

What prevents classical algorithms from getting stuck in local optima?

The ability to assess many options globally allows quantum optimization algorithms to avoid getting trapped in local optima.

What is the main limitation of classical techniques for high-dimensional optimizations?

Evaluating every combination of options becomes practically impossible for classical systems as the problem dimensionality increases. Hence approximations are needed.

Can quantum algorithms find optimal solutions that classical techniques cannot?

Yes, there are many problems for which quantum algorithms can determine actual optimal solutions whereas classical techniques rely on good approximate solutions.

Which industry will benefit the most from quantum optimization in the near future?

Finance is poised to benefit tremendously from quantum computing optimization in the near term for applications like portfolio optimization, asset pricing, risk modeling, fraud detection, etc.

MK Usmaan