2024 – The year quantum finally moves beyond its hype

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Viewers of popular 60 MinutesTV magazine may have been surprised by a feature on quantum computing in December, a topic usually too complex and unapproachable for mainstream audiences. But, given the hype surrounding quantum computing and the subsequent adoption level, it is not surprising. All things AI, perhaps this is a sign that an even more sophisticated — and potentially life-changing — technology will have its moment next. 

The re-authorization of this bi-partisan, bi-partisan technology by the U.S. Congress will be more significant than recent media attention (driven by notable experiments announced by large and smaller players). National Quantum Initiative. If it is passed as expected, the bill will allocate more than 3 billion dollars for quantum research within the next 5 years. 

There is a newfound urgency to see results sooner. Alan McQuinn, an employee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, recently highlighted that the initiative will be focused on investing in near term quantum sciences applications. 

“We wanted to start moving towards use cases, moving towards applications, to try and show proof of need for this technology so that it can be deployed across economic sectors,” he said.

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Similar initiatives by the UK, Canada and EU government entities are accelerating short-term progress, at least partly motivated by investment and development in China. Staying ahead of the curve is essential. Quantitatively,It may be that a greater strategic priority is to focus on the AI arms race.  

From hype to reality

Quantum computing enthusiasts have rightly been accused of overhyping the technology’s near-term impacts. Its promise to solve macro-challenges in science, health and energy, as well as finance, sparked a frenzy. 

The expectations were too high, and the results came too fast.

In 2019, Google claimed “Quantum supremacy,” where a quantum device outperformed a classical one. The application was not practical, but it sparked a wave of quantum start ups and large funding rounds in the public and the private markets. Afterwards, huge claims in impossible timelines were made.

By 2022, the irrational enthusiasm had subsided. As the challenges of building a practical quantum computer became clear, financial markets retreated and valuations dropped. Talk of a “quantum winter” emerged as frustrated investors, looking for moonshot wins, hinted at pulling back if demonstrable and practical progress could not be seen.

The year 2024 will mark the beginning of a steady and tangible progress, replacing the years of boom-or-bust thinking. 

What it takes to move Quantum forward

Let me summarize this challenge in one word.

Three layers make up a typical quantum computer: quantum algorithms, quantum error correction stacks and quantum bits.

Qubits can be prone to errors that quickly overwhelm calculations. Quantum algorithms and a set called quantum error correction (QEC), can be used to reduce errors, allowing us to unlock new applications. 

This is not going to happen over night. It won’t happen next year. When will it happen? Historically, quantum experts have always said we’re ‘about 10 years away’ from that goal.

The countdown is already underway. This timescale will be closer to 7 or 8 years with the development of quantum algorithms and error-correction, coupled with ongoing results on the qubit level.

Double down on error correction

The year 2023 was marked by several important papers and announcements. Google had a new logo. Code releasedQuantum company Quera, which has been producing the largest number error-free qubits, while IBM’s new roadmap has a core focus on Error correction 

Quantum computing is predicted to unlock new possibilities as we approach 2024. $1,3 trillion by 2035 across multiple industries. Strong quantum companies will also see waves of investment towards the end of 2023.

These investments were predominantly led by governments using a ‘testbed’ business model.  Testbeds are a way for experts to test, benchmark and evaluate the various components needed to build a useful, practical quantum computer.

In the long run, the UK may have unveiled its most ambitious plans yet with a clear goal to create a ‘TeraQuop’ quantum computer(or one that is capable of a trillion errors-free operations) before 2035. TeraQuops are significant because they go beyond supercomputing.

By contrast, today’s quantum computers are capable of a just few hundred error-free operations. 

This leap might sound like a return the irrational euphoria of previous decades. There are many real reasons to be optimistic. 

The quantum computing industry has now connected these short-term tests with long-term moonshots, such as TeraQuop. It is also aiming for middle-term incremental goals (but still as ambitious).

As we approach this threshold, we’ll start to more intrinsically understand errors and fix them. We can begin to model simple molecules and system, developing more powerful quantum algorithm. We can then work on more interesting and impactful applications with each new quantum computer generation/testbed. 

What are these applications? We don’t know. And that’s OK.

Let me take you further back in time when one of the world’s early digital computers was developed: EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator). EDSAC, developed in the Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory was the first practical electronic computer with stored programs. The three Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.1962), Medicine (1963) and Physics (1974All acknowledged the role that it played in their respective research. 

When EDSAC first ran in 1949, these applications were unimaginable. 

We’re now at the same point in quantum computing. 

We don’t know exactly what applications a useful quantum computer will unlock. But I predict there will be many, multidisciplinary Nobel Prize nods to come for the teams that develop the world’s first useful quantum computer.

Fixing errors unlocks the potential

But first, we need to develop more efficient quantum algorithms and QEC methods. We will then need fewer quantum qubits to perform the same quantum calculations, and we will be able to unlock useful quantum computing sooner. 

As the pace of progress continues to accelerate, the conversation about quantum applications will take on real substance in 2024 as we set tangible goals, commit ourselves to realistic ambitions, and unlock real results.

The clock is ticking and the hype is over.

Steve Brierley founded and is the CEO of a quantum computing company Riverlane.

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