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Race to quantum future: have you mounted a horse or a goat?

Quantum computers are not yet powerful enough to solve the problems that classical computers can't. But the hype is here, and so is the business advantage.

Last November, IBM Quantum pushed quantum computers behind the 100-qubit barrier by unveiling the Eagle, a 127-qubit quantum processor.

"We hope to see quantum computers bring real-world benefits across fields as this increase in space complexity moves us into a realm beyond the abilities of classical computers," the company said.

When IBM launched its 5-qubit quantum computer back in 2016, it gave a start to the proliferation of quantum computing companies.

"Quantum computing was first postulated in the 80s by Richard Feynman. It wasn't until 2016 that the first commercial quantum computer came on the market. It took a while to get there, but we showed that this technology is viable," Denise Ruffner, Chief Business Officer at Atom Computing, said during the MIT Tech Review's conference Future Compute.

Last year, Atom Computing unveiled its 100-qubit computer. According to Ruffner, there are 60 companies developing quantum computers and roughly 120 firms working on software applications.

"We see corporations, academics, and governments using quantum computing. So there's quite a huge demand for it," she said.

Ruffner explained that currently, there are nine different modalities or, simply put, nine different ways to make a quantum computer. No one can yet tell which one will succeed first in exceeding a classical computer.

"Quantum supremacy is like a horse race where you don't know how fast your horse is, you don't know how fast anybody else's horse is, and some of the horses are goats," Quantum Bullshit Detector, one of Ruffner's favorite Twitter profiles, Quantum Bullshit Detector, once Tweeted.

And she finds it quite accurate – there's no way to know what approach to building a quantum computer will be in the lead in the next three years.

"This is a long race, and time will tell. My advice to you is to keep on looking at the market, at what different people are doing because there are many different players and different interesting approaches," Ruffner said.

In the long run, quantum computing will come with a promise to solve previously challenging problems, such as speeding up the creation of vaccines and other life-saving drugs.

However, if you look at the short-term quantum computing applicability to business, it gets more unclear and complicated.

"Quantum computing can solve different problems, and the timeline is still very much up for grabs," Ruffner said.

Businesses trying to figure out how to harness quantum computing today should not build long-term strategies at the moment.

"Something might serve you very well for a year, and try not to think three years out. Look at what something can do for you today, and work on it today. In two years from now, you may be using a different modality," she said.

According to her, many people are now working on quantum computing solutions for the supply chain. It’s supposed to help solve complex business problems, including logistics, optimization, and streamlining. The more powerful quantum computers we build, the bigger problems we can solve.

"It's a question of getting quantum computers with more qubits, and there are more qubits, there are larger and larger problems we can solve. Right now, the problems are still very small. Be very careful if someone says, oh, I can do this tomorrow or next year. You need to be very conservative," she said.

Although the future of quantum computing is still clouded with a lot of uncertainty, Ruffner says it should be a long-term investment for businesses as opposed to something you can implement today and have it working for you tomorrow. She believes that 'more quantum advantage is five-seven years away.'

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