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Quantum.Tech: Brilliant minds collaborate on current tech challenges while also separating hype from reality

The variety of organizations involved in quantum computing demonstrates the vast reach this technology will have once commercialized at scale

At Quantum.Tech, attendees heard from a diverse group of speakers from established companies directly involved in the quantum computing space, such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), as well as startups, such as Zapata Computing and IQM Quantum Computers. In addition to encouraging great minds to work together, Quantum.Tech did an excellent job of demonstrating the sheer magnitude of reach that quantum technologies will have once unleashed. There were speakers from multiple government agencies, both within and outside of the U.S., as well as from healthcare, banking, venture capital, telecom and security companies. These organizations have a vast reach and are also just a small representation of the sheer volume of industries quantum technologies will impact. Time and time again, these speakers noted that the commercialization of a fault-tolerant quantum computer is expected to be achieved within the next 10 years, indicating that economic advantage is on our doorstep and that large-scale quantum adoption is just around the corner.

Quantum sensing will change human activity and has changed centuries-old standards definitions

Atomic clocks, quantum sensors and lidar (light detection and ranging) were several of the small-scale quantum technologies discussed, in addition to the general-purpose quantum computing, networking and security aspects of mainstream computing use cases. Quantum-enabled lidar appears reminiscent of early radar technology first brought to market during World War II and the great-great-grandparent to current GPS technology. Quantum-enabled lidar will be adopted traditionally, being put to use for military applications first, then moving to commercial aircraft and ultimately over to automobiles, drones and other modes of human transportation.

During a discussion at Quantum.Tech, RSK, a civil engineering firm in the U.K., indicated it already uses quantum sensing technology for site assessments. These mid-six-figure devices pay for themselves in six months to a year, and in at least one situation, the $10,000 to $15,000 fee for service enabled the client to gain information that previously would have entailed risking $5 million for a project to uncover. Later in the talk, the device was also shown being towed behind an automobile mapping the ground below the road. In this fashion, municipalities can pinpoint areas where water or sewer lines are leaking, for example.

Quantum.Tech spanned two days with three discrete presentation tracks for over 400 attendees. There was a smattering of references to existing commercial products amid discussions about persistent challenges being researched around the globe. Academics, government agencies, technology companies, venture capitalists (VCs) and enterprise businesses had their turns to discuss the challenges and anticipated benefits of quantum computing. The general tenor of the event was one of tempered optimism. Advancements continue, challenges persist, and the pace of scientific breakthroughs can be uneven. Concerns were expressed about over-hyping the technology while working on real scientific obstacles taking months, if not years, to solve. Hyping the expected pace of discovery could trigger a “quantum winter,” with VCs pulling back necessary funding for long-term developments as hype leads to unrealistic expectations of rapidly tangible results.

Do not concern yourself with quantum supremacy; the opportunity is in ‘economic advantage’

Economic advantage is a key, repeatable milestone for quantum computing

TBR defines “economic advantage” as the point at which there is a significant benefit, either in time to insight or the ability to obtain an insight, that makes it cost-effective to pursue a given problem with the help of quantum computing. This does not mean that the benefit needs to be achieved exclusively with a quantum computer. In fact, TBR believes that initial economic advantage will be achieved by disaggregating a complex problem from classical computing to quantum computing and then back to a classical computer to maximize the cost efficiencies of gaining a given insight. Just as quantum computing will hit the market algorithm by algorithm, so will economic advantage.

It is not necessary for quantum computing to reign supreme across the IT space in order for value to be abstracted from the technology. It is also not necessary for quantum computing to take the place of a classical computer in order to provide value. This is a key factor that many vendors in the market are overlooking. Just as cloud is not all or nothing, neither is quantum computing. Cloud, as it currently exists, works in partnership with on-premises environments. In fact, customers prefer the consumption of cloud in this hybrid manner. This is a similar consumption-type model we foresee quantum computing taking, in which classical computing and quantum computing work together to fully harness the power of quantum computing.

As the prevalence of quantum computing continues to increase in the IT realm, there are many different views on the technology. Some believe the technology is so far from being relevant that it is not worth worrying about. Others believe the technology is already here, while still others believe the technology is on our doorstep and the wealth of knowledge it will release for society is almost upon us. Here is one thing we all can agree on: Quantum computing has not achieved quantum supremacy. However, TBR believes there is a far more important metric to concern ourselves with as a society that is much closer than we think: economic advantage.