Quantum computing, a form of computing that uses qubits instead of bits to solve complex computations with thousands, or even millions, of variables and possible combinations, has provoked massive hype in the tech world. Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Airbus have all made large investments in the technology. From drug discovery, to aircraft design, to market forecasting, the potential for quantum is vast — even while its development has lagged behind the hype.
To gain a comprehensive view of the market as it currently stands, as well as forecasts for the next year, NewtonX issued a survey to 500 quantum computing experts. The results of this survey informed the data and insights in this article.
Quantum Computing in 2019 and Beyond
This year alone, Microsoft designed a programming language for quantum called Q#; Google used quantum on a project with NASA to apply the technology to space travel; and IBM released a new 20 qubit quantum computer called IBM Q System One. With these advances have come challenges: we wrote earlier this year about the need for quantum cryptography to prevent hacking, as well as the need for quantum computing talent.
Today, these challenges persist, but several companies have stepped in to begin to address them. Microsoft, for instance, released a Quantum Development Kit to help programmers experiment with the technology and create new applications with it. In May, the company announced that its Kit had been downloaded 100,000 times. On the security side, British Telecommunications (BT) is working on using quantum mechanics to improve communication security, and in 2018 the company announced it had built a quantum-secured network that spanned roughly 50 miles. Similarly, KPN, a Dutch telecommunications company, has implemented end-to-end quantum key distribution to secure transmissions, in conjunction with ID Quantique, a quantum encryption company.
Meanwhile, other companies have begun to leverage quantum for various use cases. For instance, Airbus has leveraged existing quantum computers (not developed by Airbus) to address the storage and compute of big data in aerospace, such as analyzing satellite images or creating new materials for aircraft.
The transportation company is not alone in leveraging quantum for materials discovery. Management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has partnered with clients and governments to use quantum for drug discovery, among other use cases. Similarly, IBM has partnered with a number of universities, and expects that researchers will use IBM Q for drug discovery and mining.
Most of these companies are using quantum for specific use cases. Intel, on the other hand, is interested in mass producing quantum computers. In 2018, the company announced that it had built a 49 qubit superconducting chip. A year later, Intel announced a testing tool that allows researchers to validate quantum wafers and check that qubits are working correctly before they’re built into full quantum computers — a development that could aid in high-volume production of quantum processors.
Despite Advances, Quantum Remains Relatively Niche
While Google claims it will reach “quantum supremacy” — the point at which a quantum computer can complete a processing task that a classical computer could not — in a matter of months, advances in quantum have not yet had quite the impact they were forecast to. This is in part due to the fact that most quantum computers are wildly expensive and difficult to maintain and operate, and in part due to the fact that their applications are most impactful in niche areas, such as materials and drug discovery. Over the next half-decade, significant advances in quantum may not impact the average person, but will have enormous impact on select industries.