Quantum is the pipe, not the oil
Or do use cases for quantum computing matter?
Quantum Information Science for executives and investors
A fascinating conversation with a Fortune 15 exec inspired this week’s long take on the question of use cases for quantum computing. A short take on a few news items follows, and, of course, the fan favorite SciFi corner.
Not a day passes without a LinkedIn post by a quantum expert, a press article or conference exploring use cases for quantum computing, their timeline and potential impact.
The speculations range from the fantastical to the ridiculous, and rarely carry much substance. We know that, theoretically, quantum computing can solve certain hard problems, specifically we believe it can solve factorization and optimization problems better than a classical approach can today. But we have not done so within a business use case. We also know that specific Quantum Information Science applications such as Quantum Key Distribution, Quantum Communications or Quantum Sensing have immediate and highly valuable commercial applications. But, no matter what experts and the media proclaim, we do not know what a business use case for content computing would be today.
I recently had the privilege to have this debate with one of the most respected business leaders in the space who runs the Quantum program at one of the 15 largest companies in the world. His response was simple:
We do not know what the use cases are, but we need to present them in our internal business plans to get funding and resources. But, frankly, my team and I are not worried about these use cases all that much.
What he was really saying, to my ears at least, was eye opening. This is one of the largest global companies in the world with hundreds of thousands of employees, trillions in USD in assets and offices and customers pretty much in every country of the world. They move vast amounts of super fast data around the globe every second, in a business where split seconds can make a difference of many million dollars profit or loss. They run operational processes, customer support systems, sales and marketing efforts globally that are worth billions, and the all rely on the efficient storage and retrieval of data to be faster to market, cheaper and more productive, more personalized than their competition, or simply to find new answers to not yet known problems in all of this data. This is a business challenge, which lends itself perfectly to one of the two known quantum algorithms that we have tested and proven so far.
What he meant, is that his team is not vying for the next best use case but rather is building a global, company-wide quantum driven infrastructure for its business.
Their hypotheses is that by leveraging quantum hardware, quantum software and known quantum algorithms they will be able to more efficiently store all of their data, more effectively search it, mine it more deeply, and ultimately gain a significant advantage across all business functions and verticals of a global company. It is then up them to dream up use cases specific to their functions, regions, needs and goals. But the overall data system, so is the goal, will be Quantum powered, and thus light years more performant than anything previously known.
In other words, they are not building quantum computing use cases. They are building a quantum inspired corporate infrastructure that will be a global platform for innovation and use use cases that nobody has thought of so far.
Of course, this presents tremendous challenges, both technical and corporate, where you are competing internally with already amazing HPC systems, A.I., digital and blockchain. The mindset, though, is a wonderful demonstration of what Quantum is and can be - it’s not a faster computer or a system that can solve really complex computations. It’s a new way of thinking rooted in fundamentally different laws of physics. Innovation at its best ❤️
For executives this means not much. Unless, you’re in the fortunate and rare position that the protagonist of this story is in, and you have the context, knowledge, skill and resource to drive true, company wide change. Unless, you’re willing to really dedicate your career to Quantum, understand how it is different and new at its core and not just the superficial statements of superposition and entanglement. Unless that is you, for you it means that the best you can do is to continue to build skill, credibility, support and learn as much as possible so as to implement your use cases when we have the necessary capabilities.
For investors this means that true risk capital is cool again. Are you able to cut the kind of checks that inspire comic book heroes? Are you able to not worry about the returns for a decade? Then this is your chance to make history. All other investors need to understand the ecosystem to find opportunities to take advantage of consolidation trends, or, the rare niche application with a near term commercial future.
For Quantum Executives
Quantum simulation gets more powerful thanks to new research out of Kiel University, Germany.
Intel provides more details on its Horse Ridge effort to industrialize the manufacturing of quantum chips.
The new Women in Quantum Development (WIQD) network announced its first event.
I don’t know the people behind this program and I am sure they are excellent but here is a cute example how not to go about Quantum, which, will come to life between 2023 and 2025… really, people, really?! It’s this kind of overblown hype that will bite us all in the…
Not much else to report this week that is pertinent to executives so here is something to make you smirk - yes, all things quantum are built by humans, so be warned.
For quantum investors
Deals were made over the last week, specifically, seed rounds in well positioned Quantum startups that are (1) led by a credible team (2) have the scientific background required (3) understand that commercialization is important and accept it as part of their business plan and (4) demonstrate a realistic and strong focus on specific problems.
The purpose of these investments seems to ensure that said ventures do not have to worry about a potential Quantum Winter. Clearly a vote by investors into the viability of Quantum and the backing of the top horses and jockeys. More details to follow as these deals are made public.
One public deal is QuintessenceLabs, a leading quantum cybersecurity provider, who secured funding by Q-Tel, a non-profit strategic investor with a mission to accelerator the development of new technologies for the government.
The Dutch government is committing another 23.5M EUR to a 5 year national Quantum program.
The SciFi corner; just for fun!
I don’t know you but personally math has been the dark horse of my education, a never ending struggle. But, no matter how fluent in math we all are, I think we all can agree that math is an exceptional language to describe the laws of nature and the universe.
Most of us have used math to describe physical laws of nature to some extent or another, or even explore the laws of the universe around us. It is common knowledge, that math is the best and most accurate way to describe what happens around us.
A new research paper suggests that the universe, in turn, might be describing math. I guess we are not alone out there…