The exponential future of finance

This could make high-speed trading look like Atari

Quantum computing to occupy Wall Street?

Wall Street critics contend that technological advances, including dark pools and high-frequency trading, have made the markets a dangerous place for the average investor.

What's coming next to Wall Street from Silicon Valley is poised to go far beyond turning a half-second trade between Chicago and the New York Stock Exchange into a millisecond's profit. Quantum computing won't stop at just making the masters of the universe faster to find profits. It wants to make Wall Street much smarter with an entirely new approach to computational problem-solving.

The company leading the Silicon Valley race to a quantum future for computing is D-Wave. The basic premise is that classic computational power is reaching its limits, and furthermore, it's also not the best approach when it comes to solving some of the world's most complex riddles.

"Quantum mechanics takes these mysterious principles of physics and allows nature to do computation in a way nature is best at," said Vern Brownell, D-Wave CEO. "You can't predict the weather well with classical computing. Problems with lots of variables and complexity—quantum computing can be a tool to really help out in those areas," Brownell said.

Baran Ozdemir | Vetta | Getty Images

Brownell, who once served as chief technology officer at Goldman Sachs, said his old haunt of Wall Street has plenty of challenges that quantum computing can tackle.

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"In finance, you give smart people a new tool and they will find a market advantage. We're talking to early adopters in hedge funds and investment banks about how they can they use [quantum computing] to achieve a market advantage," Brownell said.

The goal is not one more advance to be filed under the "Flash Boys"–era mantra of "faster."

"It's not faster, but smarter," Brownell said. "Using this kind of quantum computing to really analyze the market in a different way that others can't do. It's a much broader set of variables—all these different conditions—and then ultimately make a trade."

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"One of the hottest things in computer science today is machine learning, and quantum computing is particularly good at that. There's a great synergy between machine learning and quantum computing, whether it's driverless cars or big data," he said.

In the next five years your iPhone will be accessing a quantum computer.
Vern Brownell
D-Wave CEO

One more tech advantage being provided to the investment banks and hedge funds may be the last thing the average Joe wants, but Brownell said quantum computing has much broader, more exciting applications that affect most people's lives.

"This is not machines taking over; this is a new tool," he said. "I'm personally most excited about bioinformatics," Brownell said. "We are looking for better drugs for cancer, and understanding how cancer attacks cells is a huge computational problem."

Brownell also thinks that in the next five years, most people will be accessing a quantum computer through the cloud—the technology requires a huge refrigerated room kept at a very low temperature, even if it is just a small chip, so you won't have a quantum computer in your bag. "In the next five years, your iPhone will be accessing a quantum computer, alongside other resources," he predicted.