Quantum computing: Same plot, shorter film

TBR position: The path to quantum computing commercialization will follow a trajectory similar to that of classical computing, but much faster

IBM (NYSE: IBM) states that its quantum computing architecture will eclipse anything classical computing can produce once it can entangle 50 quantum bits (qubits). When IBM announced its quantum cloud service in March 2017, it sat at 5 qubits; by June it had reached 16 qubits. This development trajectory suggests the IBM Q Series will eclipse classical computing in two to three years. On the other hand, quantum pure play D-Wave recently released a system doubling the qubit performance from 1,000 to 2,000. The differences between the two architectures are nuanced and reminiscent of the high-performance computing development arcs of the past 40 years. In classical computing, niche vendors such as Cray and Tandem innovated around special-purpose computers addressing mission-critical, niche applications before general-purpose computing architectures could provide the same compute output at commercially acceptable price points. Quantum will likely follow the same path: niche innovation followed by general-purpose adoption.

The quantum computing landscape is not necessarily technology in pursuit of a use case, but rather it is technology in pursuit of a well-trained workforce that can translate its power into productive commercial outputs. Here is where quantum computing has the potential to extend into viable commercial use cases far faster than the classical computing advancements that have transformed the world over the past 60 years. The lessons on human interaction with technology, the capex to opex shifts cloud computing provides, and the successful pivot to ecosystem business models built around open standards and community-contributed IP will accelerate the commercialization of quantum computing technology, regardless of whether there is a comparable innovation algorithm to Moore’s Law.

Expensive innovation in technology often flows from the public sector quickly down to financial services and healthcare, given that preserving health and wealth are critical to consumers while “protection of the commons” allowed governments to justify costly investments in experimental technologies to protect their citizenry. This paradigm has shifted somewhat, with Moore’s Law economics applied to classical computing as well as the advent of cloud computing combining to dramatically lower the barriers to entry to begin innovating.

Quantum, in that scenario, represents a throwback to the classical business use cases of the past century. Similar to early classical computing instances, a typical D-Wave installation costs about $10 million to stand up.

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