Quantum computing: the future or just another FOMO train?

Quantum computing (QC) is all the rage these days. China, the US, and the EU are jumping on the hype train, funnelling billions of dollars into emerging QC technology. GPUs, drug discovery and many industries will undergo drastic advancements under QC’s guide. But investors are worried: will QC produce anything of use within the near future, or is it just another FOMO train?

The ELI5 definition of Quantum Computing (QC) is computing that uses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for traditional computers. 

Okay, maybe “ELI5” doesn’t quite fit here. There isn’t really an ELI5 when it comes to a science as complex as this. 

Even the scientists don’t know its full potential. In Classiq Technologies CEO Nir Minerbi’s words, the most important advances in quantum computing are probably still “beyond our imagination”. But he does suggest that they’ll “revolutionise material science, carbon capture, supply chain optimization, and therapeutic discovery”. 

Still sounding pretty vague.

In the financial sector, QC can hypothetically process unprecedentedly huge data sets, making market predictions that could alter the global economy as we know it.

It’s all very exciting. But there are just a few hiccups. 

Practical uses for QC haven’t actually been established yet. 

Oxford physicist Nikita Gourianov writes that “despite years of effort nobody has yet come close to building a quantum machine that is actually capable of solving practical problems. The current devices are so error-prone that any information one tries to process will almost instantly degenerate into noise. The problem only grows worse if the computer is scaled up.”

And they’re not making anyone any money.

In a fairly scathing Financial Times piece, Gourianov wrote: “The quantum computing industry has yet to demonstrate any practical utility…. Why is so much money flowing in? Well, mainly due to the fanfare.”

QC evangelism, hype and hearsay, and the ease of blinding with science is leaving the investors who have poured billions into the tech vulnerable.

Is QC a fad, or will investors going long see quantum-sized dividends?

Quantum and the world 

In 2021, global QC funding soared to USD $1.7 billion – more than double the $700 million raised in 2020. 

With scientists evangelising QC through promotion, education, and statistics, everyone from world nations to major corporations is getting excited, despite no tangible proof of near future use.

23% of business executives are working with QC or planning to do so. With the University of Chicago’s last breakthrough in QC by linking quantum network nodes together in 2021, interest continues to skyrocket.

In Australia, alliances are forming.

Aussie-founded/Silicon Valley based PsiQuantum has secured USD $665 million over 6 rounds, the most recent led by BlackRock. They’re using the capital to fund the use of silicon photonics to deliver 1 million+ qubits (?). BlackRock Partner Tony Kim said “it’s the most promising approach we’ve seen to date.”

Deep-tech company Archer has announced a collaboration with Queensland-based AI and ML company Max Kelsen to develop functional room-temperature quantum devices. 

CEO Mohammad Choucair explains: “We will use IBM’s Qiskit and quantum machines to validate our work, and once validated, Archer intends to apply the end-user cases, algorithms and Qiskit to CQ chip hardware, which demonstrates the increasing value our partnerships bring as we progress in our development.”

It’s still Greek to a lot of us. But Australia is speaking the language. 

Australia and quantum 

Aus has made (quantum) leaps (sorry) and bounds in quantum technology. 

The Tech Council of Australia has formed a trifecta with the Australian Quantum Alliance and nine major players, including tech giants Google, Microsoft, and Rigetti, and startups Q-CTRL, Quantum Brilliance, and Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC).

SQC announced the world’s first integrated circuit two years ahead of schedule. In June, it announced USD $130 million in Series A funding to galvanise technical and strategic development, and establish facilities at UNSW Sydney. 

More than 3% of the world’s quantum startups originate here, compared to 1.7% of startups on average. We’re also netting 3.6% of global QC investment, which is over double the country’s GDP share of 1.6%.

Given our slow start on the global startup scene, and despite the nascency of the tech, QC could be an unmissable opportunity. With actual government support this time, it might be the key to bolstering our knowledge economy.

Quantum and you

Despite QC systems getting better, scientists say they’re at the “noisy intermediate-scale quantum era”. This means they’re incredibly sensitive to the surrounding area and can lose “coherence” after just a few seconds of work.

If QC manages to release commercially, the average person could benefit from optimised self-driving cars, new medical technology, and having their flight arrive on time.

SaaS startups can upgrade to quantum-powered devices to acquire massively faster, more efficient data calculations for daily operations.

Emerging QC technology can also revolutionise the fight against climate change by cutting 7 gigatons of carbon emissions a year by 2035.

It may also get batteries to net-zero. Lithium-ion batteries emit 73 kg CO2-equivalent/kWh a year. By simulating the chemistry of batteries with QC technology, scientists can create higher-density units that can store more power for much longer, reducing carbon emissions by 1.4 gigatons by 2035.

Given our proximity to an EV tipping point, this may be the most urgent and impactful use case QC has promised to date.

Quantum and founders 

Whether or not QC produces dividends in the short term, Australia is going long. Startup founders may not immediately benefit from investing in QC, but the long-term possibilities are endless.

Kate Pounder of the TCA says: “Australia is leading the world in quantum research. Now we need to lead in commercialising that research by creating, scaling and attracting world-leading quantum companies in Australia”. 

If investors are interested in short-term results, emerging QC technology is definitely part of the FOMO train. Promises to reach practical uses five or even ten years from now are mere speculation.

Quantum computing is no fad. It’s the next technological era for humanity. But if you’ve invested, you may be waiting a while yet for those quantum returns.

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