According to some experts, the progress of thequantum computing will soon come to a halt, leading to a “quantum winter”, when big companies put the brakes on their development programs and investments in start-ups dry up.
So thinks Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist working for the Center for Mathematical Philosophy in Munich. ”
This bubble of promises will eventually burst. It’s just a matter of time
predictedshe last November.
Some signs prove him right. In 2022, quantum computing has had a bad time, with the share prices of the three publicly traded companies specializing in this technology falling. There was also a trend towards market concentration with no less than eight mergers between young companies seeking to join forces to survive.
But optimism remains, as illustrated by the
Q2B conference held recently in Silicon Valley around quantum computing business. Industry players showed continued progress towards working quantum computers, PhD students from large companies discussed their work, and a study showed concerns about a research and investment freeze were falling. ”
I don’t think there will be a quantum winter, but some people will get frostbite
“, estimated Doug Finke, analyst of Global Quantum Intelligence.
quantum computing relies on the bizarre rules of atomic-scale physics to perform calculations beyond the reach of conventional computers such as those found in today’s phones, laptops and supercomputers. But it will still be years before we have powerful, large-scale quantum computers.
However, the progress is encouraging. Indeed, even if quantum computers cannot perform most computing tasks, they have the potential to revolutionize several fields such as meteorology, drug development, financial calculations or even artificial intelligence.
Quantum computing leaders and researchers are acutely aware of the risks of a quantum winter. They saw what happened with artificial intelligence, a field that had lackluster decades before the explosion of activity we are seeing now.
Quantum computing applications
These applications of quantum computing were mentioned many times during the Q2B exhibition. Major companies like JP Morgan Chase, Ford Motor Co., Airbus, BMW, Novo Nordisk, Hyundai and BP are investing in R&D teams and proof of concept projects to lead the way.
These investments are usually accompanied by efforts in hardware and software from start-ups and large companies like
IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Intel, which are betting heavily on quantum computing. This work is supported by public funds for quantum computing research in the United States, France, Germany, China, Australia, and other countries.
While conventional computers perform operations on bits that represent either one or zero, the fundamental data processing element of quantum computers, called a qubit, is very different. Qubits, made up of quantum particles, can be in superposition 0 and 1 at the same time. More importantly, they recover data while remaining in this state. And thanks to a phenomenon called “entanglement”, they can be linked together to accommodate a number of calculation states far greater than that which conventional bits can store at the same time.
The problem with current quantum computers is the limited number of qubits, 433 in IBM’s latest Osprey quantum computer, and their fragility. Qubits are easily disturbed, which degrades the calculations and therefore limits the number of possible operations. On the most stable quantum computers, there is always a greater than 1 in 1,000 chance of a single operation producing an erroneous result, an outrageously high error rate compared to conventional computers. Calculations in quantum computing usually need to be run multiple times to get a statistically useful result.
Today’s machines belong to the NISQ generation or noisy intermediate scale quantum which can be translated as an imperfect quantum computer of intermediate size. It is not yet certain that these machines will perform well enough to be used beyond testing and prototyping.
But all quantum computer makers are heading towards an era of better “fault tolerance” in which qubits are better stabilized and clustered into long-lived logic qubits that correct errors to persist longer. That’s when the real benefits of quantum computing will emerge, probably in five years or more.
The Hype Around Quantum Computing
One of the pitfalls quantum computing must guard against is hype. This potentially revolutionary technology has attracted investor interest. In the past 14 months, three quantum computer makers have taken their companies to public markets, taking the faster route of SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) rather than the traditional IPO. .
The first was IonQ in October 2021, followed by Rigetti Computing in March and D-Wave Systems in August. However, the markets have not been kind to these players. IonQ is trading at half its starting price, and D-Wave has lost around three-quarters of its value. Rigetti, which is trading at around a tenth of its original price, has just lost its CEO and founder. As we mentioned above, the sector is currently going through a phase of concentration. Thus, Honeywell Quantum Solutions merged with Cambridge Quantum to form Quantinuum in 2021; Pasqal merged with Qu&Co in 2022; and ColdQuanta, newly renamed Infleqtion, acquired Super.tech.
The reality of quantum computing
Time and again during Q2B, quantum computing advocates were measured in their predictions and cautious about promises of impending breakthroughs.
They prefer to put forward a modest balance sheet but in constant progress. Quantum computer makers are working to gradually increase the scale of quantum computers, improve their software, and reduce qubit noise that disrupts calculations. In-depth work that spans several years.
In addition, new initiatives are constantly emerging. Amazon, which launched its Braket service by providing access to other companies’ quantum computers, is now also working on its own machines. At the Q2B conference, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, backed by its pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, announced a project to fund a quantum computer for biosciences at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
This is a long-term project that aims to work on key issues related to life sciences by 2035. Physicist Peter Krogstrup Jeppesen left a quantum computing research position at Microsoft to lead this effort.
What could cause a quantum winter?
Some startups find that the investment climate is freezing. Raising funds is harder today, says Asif Sinay, chief executive of Qedma, whose error-suppressing technology is designed to help squeeze more power from quantum computers.
Tony Uttley, Quantinuum’s COO, sees two scenarios that could trigger a quantum winter: if a large quantum computing company ceases investment or if progress across the industry stalls.
We are no closer to having a general-purpose quantum computer capable of solving commercially relevant problems.
thinks Oskar Painter, a physicist who leads Amazon Web Services’ work in this area. But for all that he is optimistic:
I am convinced that we will get there. I see the way to get there
Image: Stephen Shankland/CNET
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