the newsletter of tbd consultants - Spring/Summer 2023

Printable PDF version
Subscribe to our newsletter

In this Edition

Constructing Climate Solutions
Quantum Construction
What’s Happening?

Construction Management Specialists

San Francisco, CA
(415) 981-9430 (San Francisco office)
Orinda, CA
(415) 981-9430 (Orinda office)
Rocklin, CA
(415) 872-0996 (Sacramento office)
San Diego, CA
(858) 886-7373 (San Diego office)
Redmond, WA
(206) 571-0128 (Seattle office)

Los Altos, CA
(650) 386-1728 (South Bay office)

Los Angeles, CA
(424) 343-2652 (Los Angeles, CA office)
Wicklow, Ireland
+353 86-600-1352 (Europe office)


Constructing Climate Solutions

Strange, record-breaking weather swings are starting to affect us as climate change bites. In this article we look at what this means for the construction site.


Quantum Construction


Quantum computers have made some significant advances recently. In 2019 we had Google claiming to have achieved “quantum advantage” and last year IBM announced that they had built a quantum computer with 433 qubits, both developments being significant steps on the path to practical quantum computing, but they do not mean that we’ll all be using quantum computers in a year or two. “Quantum advantage” is said to be achieved when a quantum computer can solve a problem that a traditional digital computer couldn’t solve, at least in a reasonable time period. Google’s claim was that their quantum computer solved a problem in a second or so, that a digital supercomputer would take at least 9,000 years to do. IBM suggests that 2.5 days is more realistic, but that’s still a lot more than a second. And IBM’s 433-qubit machine (Osprey) is impressive, but a truly general-practice quantum computer would need something like a million or more qubits (qubit is an abbreviation of ‘quantum bit’ and it is roughly equivalent to a ‘bit’ in a digital computer).

We can expect the pace of development to accelerate as the technological problems are solved. Today’s quantum computers are said to be “noisy” and “error prone”. The noise issue may need a year or two to get under reasonable control and good error correction/ mitigation abilities will probably take about 15 years. Nevertheless, a commercially useful quantum computer may only be about 5 years away, and Google recently announced a significant advance in tackling error correction.

Whenever a truly practical quantum computer is available it will not be replacing your desktop or laptop computer. The companies working on quantum computers are already offering public access to their prototype machines through the Internet, and that is the way that they probably always will be accessed because they need to be kept cooled to close to absolute zero and protected from stray electromagnetic radiation or the qubits can become unstable. That will undoubtedly lead to the construction of buildings and infrastructure, not totally dissimilar to data centers and widely distributed the same way, in order to provide convenient access to quantum computers. We’ll have what can be called a Quantum Internet.

When quantum computers are available for common use, they are not expected to be used for watching ultra-cute cat videos or even for preparing spreadsheets. The fields where quantum computers excel are in specialist areas involving very complex calculations, and one of the first algorithms designed for them showed that the encryption methods currently used will be fairly easy to break when quantum computers are used on them. So, one technology that construction companies, and companies generally, will need to use quantum algorithms for is protecting the security of data and communications. Practical quantum security methods have already been devised and are being used.

Buildings are getting taller and more complex as the Internet of Things (IoT) brings us smart-homes and smart-cities. And that’s even without considering the 106-mile single-building city project being planned in Saudi Arabia. That complexity is moving some of the engineering and optimization problems into the realm where quantum computers could be useful. However, this would probably be carried out via a program running on a traditional computer that accesses a quantum computer for the more complex calculations. In that way, the whole process would be seamless and probably controlled by AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms.

AI has itself been showing its usefulness this past year, with DeepMind’s AlphaFold coming up with models for all the human proteins. That should revolutionize the biotech industry, and it gives some indication of what the combination of traditional computing, AI, and quantum computers could achieve when fully developed and integrated. On the other hand, we have been seeing how AI can come up with seriously erroneous results when tech companies tried incorporating it in their search engine software without thoroughly testing it first.

The biggest issue facing us at present is that of climate change, and any technology, including quantum computers, will have an impact in that regard. The question is whether the positive impacts can outweigh the negative. On the negative side there is the cooling needs which, because it means getting down to near absolute zero, involves added power consumption and use of helium that is a scarce resource. On the positive side, they have the potential for carrying out complex computational problems in minimal time, and those problems can include issues affecting climate change. However, we can’t wait the 15 to 20 years until fully general-purpose quantum computers are available to find solutions for us.

Luckily, even current quantum computers, and certainly the near-term ones, can act as quantum simulators for modeling atomic and molecular reactions and interactions. That can help with things like finding improved refrigerants that don’t react adversely with the atmosphere, improving the efficiency of solar cells and batteries, and possibly making “green concrete” more of a reality by finding the chemical changes needed to reduce the CO2 that cement production generates and increasing concrete’s CO2 absorption during its lifetime. We may not see quantum computers appearing in contractors’ site huts, but they are a technology that is likely to revolutionize how the construction industry operates.


What’s Happening?

Uncertainty seems to be the dominant feature of markets today, and here we take a look at what's happening and try to find any trends that shine a light on what's ahead.




Design consultant: Katie Levine of Vallance, Inc.