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Viewers of the popular 60 MinutesTelevision magazine was surprised to see an article in December on quantum computing. This is a topic that is usually unapproachable and wonky for mainstream audiences. But, given the hype surrounding quantum computing and the subsequent adoption level, it is not surprising. All things AI, perhaps this is a sign that an even more sophisticated — and potentially life-changing — technology will have its moment next.
The bipartisan support for the bi-partisan program is about to be renewed by the U.S. Congress. This is more significant than the recent media attention surrounding this esoteric tech (driven in part, by some notable announcements made by key players large and small). National Quantum Initiative. If passed, it will provide more than 3 billion dollars in funding for quantum research during the next 5 years.
There is a new urgency to see results sooner. Alan McQuinn, an employee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has recently stressed that the initiative will focus on investments in near-term applications in quantum sciences.
“We wanted to start moving towards use cases, moving towards applications, to try and show proof of need for this technology so that it can be deployed across economic sectors,” he said.
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Similar initiatives by UK and Canadian government entities are driving more short-term improvements, motivated at least partially by investment in China and developments. Staying ahead of the curve is essential. QuantitiesIt may be that a greater strategic priority is to focus on the AI arms race.
From hype to reality
Quantum computing enthusiasts have rightly been accused of overhyping the technology’s near-term impacts. Its promise to solve macro-challenges in science, health and energy, as well as finance, sparked a frenzy.
Inevitably, expectations were set too high for too quick a response.
In 2019, Google claimed “Quantum supremacy,” where a quantum device outperformed a classical one. The application was not practical, but it sparked a wave of quantum start ups and large funding rounds in the public and the private markets. Then, big claims were made in impossible timeframes.
By 2022, the irrational enthusiasm had subsided. Financial markets and valuations retreated as the challenges of building an effective quantum computer were understood. Talk of a “quantum winter” emerged as frustrated investors, looking for moonshot wins, hinted at pulling back if demonstrable and practical progress could not be seen.
In 2024, we will see a steady progression and tangible goals replacing years of boom-or-bust thinking.
Quantum: what it takes to move forward
Let me summarize this challenge in one word.
A typical quantum computing system is composed of three layers – quantum algorithms, the quantum error correcting stack and quantum bits.
Qubits can be prone to errors that quickly overwhelm calculations. Quantum algorithms and a set called quantum error correction (QEC), can be used to reduce errors, allowing us to unlock new applications.
This won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen next year. When will it happen? Historically, quantum experts have always said we’re ‘about 10 years away’ from that goal.
The countdown has already started. This timescale will be closer to 7 or 8 years with the development of quantum algorithms and error-correction, coupled with ongoing results on the qubit level.
Double the error correction
The year 2023 was marked by several important papers and announcements. Google had a new logo. Code releasedQuantum company Quera, which has been producing the most quantum-based products, has also produced the highest number of errors. error-free qubits, while IBM’s new roadmap has a core focus on Error correction
Quantum computing is predicted to unlock new possibilities as we approach 2024. $1,3 trillion by 2035 across multiple industries. Waves of investment will also arrive towards the end 2023 for strong Quantum companies.
These investments were predominantly led by governments using a ‘testbed’ business model. Testbeds are a way for experts to test, benchmark and evaluate the various components needed to build a useful, practical quantum computer.
In the long run, the UK may have unveiled its most ambitious plans yet with a clear goal to create a ‘TeraQuop’ quantum computer(or capable of a billion error-free operation) by 2035. TeraQuops are important because they take us beyond supercomputers.
By contrast, today’s quantum computers are capable of a just few hundred error-free operations.
This leap might sound like a reversion to the irrational optimism of previous decades. There are many real reasons to be optimistic.
The quantum computing industry has now connected these short-term tests with long-term moonshots, such as TeraQuop. It is also aiming for middle-term incremental goals (that are just as ambitious).
As we approach this threshold, we’ll start to more intrinsically understand errors and fix them. We can begin to model simple molecules and system, developing more powerful quantum algorithm. With each new generation/testbed, we can start working on more interesting (and important) applications.
What are these applications? We don’t know. And that’s OK.
Let me take you further back in time when one of the world’s early digital computers was developed: EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator). EDSAC, developed in the Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory was the first practical electronic computer with stored programs. The three Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.1962), Medicine (1963) and Physics (1974) all acknowledged the role it played in their research.
When EDSAC was launched in 1949, this kind of application was unimaginable.
We’re now at the same point in quantum computing.
We don’t know exactly what applications a useful quantum computer will unlock. But I predict there will be many, multidisciplinary Nobel Prize nods to come for the teams that develop the world’s first useful quantum computer.
Fixing errors unlocks your potential
First, we must develop better quantum algorithms. We will then need fewer quantum qubits to perform the same quantum calculations, and we can unlock quantum computing sooner.
2024 will be a year where the quantum applications conversation takes on real substance, as we commit to real ambitions, follow concrete goals and achieve real results.
The hype is over and the clock is ticking.
Steve Brierley founded and is the CEO of the quantum computing company Riverlane.
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