Mastercard Announces Quantum Computing Collaboration with D-Wave

Quantum data visualization
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Quantum specialist D-Wave and Mastercard have entered a multi-year strategic alliance that aims to accelerate the adoption of quantum computing solutions. As covered by HPC Wire, the partnership aims to develop quantum-hybrid applications in the areas of consumer loyalty and rewards, cross-border settlement, and, very specifically, fraud-management and anti-money laundering. 

Mastercard's secure network — which handled around 30% of worldwide debit and credit card transactions in 2020, excluding China — will be leveraged for these communications. 

It's currently unclear if any sort of quantum communications are being prepared for deployment. But the nascent state of these — even with considerable, recent leaps in establishing quantum networks which may or may not use existing fiber-optic infrastructures — lead us to place such an event firmly in the mid- to long-term future.

“We are heralding in the next wave of computing. Just like the creation of the PC, the emergence of the internet and the proliferation of smartphones and voice assistants, it is our belief that quantum will have far-reaching and industry-disrupting impact, especially in the financial services sector,” said Alan Baratz, CEO of D-Wave. “D-Wave and Mastercard have a shared vision of harnessing the power of technology to positively affect business and society. This alliance supports that vision by delivering quantum innovation that will tackle increasingly complex problem sets across applications like optimized loyalty programs, fraud management and anti-money laundering in financial services and, ultimately, unlock more value for customers.”

The collaboration will make use of D-Wave's products — both its quantum annealing QPUs (Quantum Processing Units), and its software-based quantum hybrid solvers
— which are essentially abstraction layers that allow developers to program for quantum computers with their existing coding skills. D-Wave's cloud computing platform, Leap, will be leveraged in delivering these experiences in real-time — even towards collaborators that don't have locally-installed quantum computers.

D-Wave's approach to quantum computing — just one in many — concerns quantum annealing — an approach that's particularly good at finding optimized solutions for problems with clearly defined datasets. Datasets such as Mastercard's client base — and their transaction history, spending habits, historic credit scores, and other data. 

The inherent security present in quantum entanglement — where two qubits are connected in such a way that you can't describe the state of any of them without knowing the state of the other — also lends itself towards more secure communications.

D-Wave's latest crop of QPUs, Advantage, have deployed 72 qubits in both horizontal and vertical loops. The company's next-generation devices — codenamed Zephyr — still have an undisclosed number of final qubits. But you can trust them to be more than 72.

“People expect hyper-personalized experiences. Quantum computing’s unique ability to analyze huge numbers of potential combinations can deliver optimal solutions that will improve efficiency and provide choice,” said Ken Moore, Chief Innovation Officer at Mastercard. “Our work with D-Wave will explore the endless applications of quantum computing for practical, real-world financial services applications.”

Why introduce quantum computing, you may ask? It all has to do with quantum's ability to solve optimization problems that classical computers simply can't — not in several human lifetimes, at least. Quantum computing's probabilistic approach to results — powered by the qubit's ability to represent both a 0 and a 1 at a given time — are what enable them to scale in the number of variables in ways that even the world's most powerful supercomputers can't. Questions such as "what is the most efficient route through all these thirteen stops" come naturally to quantum.

Good luck solving them on a classical computer.

Picking up on Moore's example, we can think about how rewards are usually deployed: Through a simple tiered system, which applies a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Sure, you can increase or decrease the number of tiers, and "personalize" the experience while still curtailing costs. But companies always have to measure their risk for each tier, according to data they've gathered on consumer habits. Crucially, this doesn't take into account new clients, whose consumption habits are (in theory) much cloudier.

Some clients won't be able to derive all the benefits from their tier, leading them to feel as if they were losing something; others will bump up against their rewards ceiling, and they too will be dissatisfied. This approach means there are always optimizations left on the table. Just like Thanos' blade in The Avengers, there's a road towards achieving the "perfectly balanced" finale.

Let's be clear: Companies want to keep customer loyalty, but they will always try to do so at the lowest possible cost to them. It's just good business. Applying quantum computing to optimization problems such as creating a personalized reward mechanism that perfectly takes into account all relevant customer variables is the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Companies curb their costs. Customers feel valued at every step of the way. It's a win-win situation - at least on paper.

So long as quantum mechanics don't apply to customers' money, as they did in the case of "DeFi" lender Celsius Network's bankruptcy, all will be well.

Shrödinger's cash is all well as good — so long as that value doesn't prove to be zero.

Francisco Pires
Freelance News Writer

Francisco Pires is a freelance news writer for Tom's Hardware with a soft side for quantum computing.