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June 7, 2021

Getting through the quantum computing noise

By GlobalData Technology

Over the last several years, there have been noticeable advancements in the field of quantum computing. New startups, university investments, and real tangible progress on not only quantum hardware, but the software frameworks and programming languages needed to ultimately democratize the technology.

Business models, mostly around cloud-style quantum computing have been developing steadily. The buzz around quantum has also created buzz in adjacent fields such as quantum networking (sometimes called quantum internet) and quantum storage/memory. There have even been claims and counter-claims to quantum supremacy, when a quantum computer can actually out-perform a computer using standard technologies.

Quantum computing is an exciting prospect

In all honestly, it’s very easy to get pulled in. The possibilities of quantum computing to solve intractable problems and advance material science, biology, exploration, medicine, and many others is exciting to contemplate. Any field that has complex mathematics could potentially benefit. However, excitement has to be tempered by and grounded in reality.

Quantum supremacy is still years away, let alone achieving the real benefits of quantum computing at scale. As to the adjacent quantum fields of quantum networking and quantum storage, these two fields are far less mature than quantum computing and are only at the lab demonstration stage.

Despite these facts, when reading about quantum, finding articles that have proper restraint and frame advances in quantum technologies appropriate is difficult at best. There tends to be three basic kinds of quantum computing material available to the average reader and technologist.

First, are the papers and abstracts from universities and other research institutions. These papers are not intended to be consumed by the general public and more often than not require a solid background in advanced mathematics and physics. The second type of article is breathless speculative gushing about the potential of quantum computing.

Skinny on the real details

These articles are long on what quantum will be able to do, but short on when and how. Or even worse, they use the headline to draw you in and then casually mention that the referenced breakthrough hasn’t happened yet and won’t for a few years yet. Sometimes they even indulge in quantum magical thinking speculating on how quantum computing will totally change everything with no evidence to really back it up.

The last type of quantum article is the fear-monger, mostly around how quantum computing has the potential to break almost all forms of existing standard encryption. (That’s years away at best and a well-understood threat.).

Tremendous potential but some way from realisation

Put together, you’d think that the quantum computing market was moving at break-neck speed. In context, it is. Quantum has been talked about and researched for literally decades. But truly new technologies like quantum technologies take decades to grow to even the lab test stage.

Quantum computing has risen into public sight a few times only to sink back down into academia. But there has been real progress and quantum is a few years short of starting to solve real problems, so understanding the timeline of quantum computing, the recent advancements are *breakneck* in context.

Quantum computing and quantum technologies in general have tremendous potential. When considering quantum, keep in mind that it is a marathon, not a race for quantum advancement. For business IT people and corporate managers, quantum computing should be a subject that for now needs observation, not immediate action. Keep an eye on this extremely interesting market and take everything you read with a grain of salt.