Quantum for quants
Wall Street's latest shiny new thing: quantum computing
The finance industry has had a long and profitable relationship with computing. It was an early adopter of everything from mainframe computers to artificial intelligence. For most of the past decade more trades have been done at high frequency by complex algorithms than by humans. Now big banks have their eyes on quantum computing, another cutting-edge technology.
This is the idea, developed by physicists in the 1980s, that the counter-intuitive properties of quantum mechanics might allow for the construction of computers that could perform mathematical feats that no non-quantum machine would ever be capable of. The promise is now starting to be realised. Computing giants like Google and IBM, as well as a flock of smaller competitors, are building and refining quantum hardware.
Quantum computers will not beat their classical counterparts at everything. But much of the maths at which they will excel is of interest to bankers. At a conference on December 10th William Zeng, head of quantum research at Goldman Sachs told the audience that quantum computing could have a "revolutionary" impact on the bank, and on finance more broadly.
Many financial calculations boil down to optimisation problems, a known strength of quantum computers, says Marco Pistoia, the head of a research unit at JPMorgan Chase, who spent many years at IBM before that. Quantum quants hope their machines will boost profits by speeding up asset pricing, digging up better-performing portfolios and making machinelearning algorithms more accurate. A study by BBVA, a Spanish bank, concluded in July that quantum computers could boost credit-scoring, spot arbitrage opportunities and accelerate so-called "Monte Carlo" simulations, which are commonly used in finance to try to model the likely behaviour of markets.