Quantum computing state of the art
In 2018, both the USA and the European Union pledged around EUR 1 billion in investments for quantum computing, and many then discovered that quantum computing seems to be the new IT frontier. Is this the case? Quantum computing uses quantum properties to bypass silicon-based limitations in computing capacities. Calculations are made at atomic level and this provides theoretically unprecedented and exponential capacities. But reality is much harsher than theory.
In the foreseeable future, quantum computing will not be a “universal” computing technology like silicon computing, and this is due to several characteristics of quantum computing:
- Quantum computing is based on a quantum engine that functions at the limits of our physical laws, where any disruption or default has major consequences: nanosystems, temperatures near absolute 0, vacuum, supraconducting systems, photonics, etc. This puts huge constraints on the practical use of quantum computing.
- Quantum computing is in its infancy, with many technologies that are still in the fundamental research phase or just out of it. It is not yet known which technologies will prevail.
- Quantum computing is not suitable for all calculations, and is today more suited to calculations that are close to quantum physics mathematics.
However, the promises are so important that many predict the emergence of quantum supremacy, where the performance delta between traditional IT and quantum IT will be so significant that quantum computing will be mandatory. Ironically, the quantum technologies that are functioning today, such as the adiabatic systems from D-Wave, are of the most limited kind, and are not believed to be able to reach quantum supremacy.
The quantum computing value chain is different from silicon-based computing as it is largely based on pure quantum physics engines. Quantum computing is an integrated, high-end computing platform that is quite closely related to high-performance computing (HPC). The result is that the value chain is in fact composed of two connected value chains:
- The core quantum value chain, which integrates the quantum engine, its infrastructure, and the quantum management platforms. This value chain is mostly composed of cutting-edge physics, materials, and electronic systems, many of which are still not yet fully mastered technically. This is the critical part of quantum computing, where most investments are made. This value chain behaves in a very similar way to the heavy hi-tech industry.
- The non-core value chain, which is mostly based on IT technologies, to exploit, develop, distribute, and use core quantum value chain capacities. This value chain behaves in a very similar way to a light industry such as the software industry.
Quantum computing players align themselves on those two value chains, with very few players being present in both chains. The core value chain integrates many fundamental research laboratories, large hi-tech manufacturers, Internet giants, and several start-ups. This chain includes many non-IT players around quantum physics and is largely based on the cooperation between state-funded fundamental research, start-ups, and large companies. The non-core chain players are mostly IT players.
In the long run, the non-core value chain will be the most important in terms of revenues, but it cannot evolve on its own in the medium run without the core value chain.
Quantum computing is still deep in the research and development phase, currently with only 2 commercially available offers (D-Wave & IBM), but it remains a very promising technology, mostly due to its expected huge computing capacities and the use cases it promises.
Quantum computing is strongly linked to quantum mathematical properties, so use cases are linked to physics, chemicals, materials, especially around real-time parallel computing for very complex system simulation. At present, only around a dozen use cases are in proof-of-concept stage, essentially on the D-Wave technology, which is not believed to be able to reach quantum supremacy.
The next step in quantum computing will generate new use cases that are farther away from quantum physics, but its capacities for complex systems already exist, in fields such as genomics, new materials, weather forecasting, and optimization of global financial models or new product marketing evolution.
The quantum computing market will enjoy huge growth in the coming years, and the ones benefiting from this will be the participants and the countries that host technology clusters which enable maximum collaboration between state-funded research, start-ups, major companies, and venture capital.
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