Choices in quantum computing
Over the last 18 months the world of quantum computing has started to heat up. This may be obvious: the number of publicly listed companies now only just fits on one hand (step forward Zapata AI to complete the quintet). But other interesting market observations are emerging. The market and technical approaches taken by quantum companies are diversifying. No longer is there a clear single view as to how things will develop. One might call that ‘disagreement’ and certainly if you want to cause a row at a quantum computing conference, strongly stating one of the opinions below is a quick way to go about it. However, variations are also part of the natural progression of a transformational technology, one ultimately set to become an entire new industry and certainly more than just a new app.
Here I outline what I see as the differing pathways being taken within the market today:
Anyone even vaguely following the development of quantum computing will know the question: ‘which qubit is best?’ Whether a believer in superconducting, ion trapping, photonics or ‘other’, you’ll know that this is a debate as old as Schrodinger’s cat itself.
Hardware vs software vs ‘full stack’
Revolutional new computing hardware or the software that will run on it? Which will come first? More to the point - which is more important and valuable? Will quantum software be the key to unlocking new hardware, or will every software platform be beholden to the few available and working quantum computers?
Is quantum ‘inspired’ really quantum?
One of the most important questions (often whispered at conferences) asks whether being truly quantum really matters. Indeed, especially for quantum software, there are many mathematical tools developed to apply to quantum computers that can be useful and valuable also when run on a classical computer. One of the key reservations is whether it is fair to suggest the long-term transformative potential of quantum applies to a tool which might be much more short-lived. But does anyone care if value is being created?
Near term (NISQ) or universal error correction?
This is the second most frequently asked question (and the question most often avoided, mumbled or scoffed at in interviews). It is also voiced as: ‘When will quantum computing become useful?’ Hardware allowing people to test near-term quantum systems (also known as ‘Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum’) is certainly available to use today. Whether it can be applied to a problem that anyone cares about is another matter.
On-premises vs cloud
It wasn’t long ago that the only way to access a quantum computer was virtually, through a service or ‘on-demand’ model. This was driven by the assumption that quantum computers were too expensive to imagine an individual organisation actually owning one. Then reports of very long queue times for cloud services started to emerge alongside others about customers who need an on-prem solution, either for security, proximity and latency or data sovereignty. As with the traditional data centre and high performance computing market, we are now seeing communities of vendors with the need and desire for cloud and those who wish for on-prem. And that is being matched with an increasing availability of commercial products to suit those needs.
When to scale
And finally, the most pertinent question: When to invest in scaling up activities in quantum? This is different from the ‘timing of NISQ’ question. For start-ups, this question is articulated as when to take that $100m growth stage cheque. For customers it is when to begin investing in building capability.
While there may be some who claim to know the answer to all my questions above, new changes in the industry and emerging products suggest that the answers are, in fact, going to be nuanced and complex. It is not going to be one-size-fits-all for any of them. What you think about quantum will depend on your industry, your company. And let’s remember, quantum computing is still in its infancy. So for some of the answers, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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