Tristan Green* asks “Is quantum computing a bubble?”
Nikita Guryanov, a physicist from Oxford University, yesterday published a scathing paper full of wild and damning claims about the field of quantum computing and the scientists working in it.
According to Guryanov, the quantum computing industry has been misled by greedy physicists who have exaggerated the possibilities of the technology in order to rip off VCs and get private sector salaries to do academic research.
According to Guryanov’s article, the real problems started in the 2010s after investors started noticing the hype around quantum physics:
As the money poured in, the field grew and it became increasingly tempting for scientists to oversell their results.
Over time, salesman-type personalities, usually without any understanding of quantum physics, entered the field, taking up leadership positions in corporations and focusing solely on fanfare production.
After a few years, a greatly exaggerated perspective on the promise of quantum computing reached the mainstream, leading to greed and misunderstanding and the formation of a classical bubble.
Guryanov’s whole premise seems to be based on their assertion that “despite years of effort, no one has yet managed to build a quantum machine capable of solving practical problems”.
They illustrate their point by pointing out that Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave (three popular quantum computing companies) combined failed to generate sufficient profit.
According to Guryanov:
The reality is that none of these companies – or any other quantum computing companies, for that matter – are actually making any money.
What little revenue they generate comes mostly from consultancy assignments to teach other companies “how quantum computers will help their business”, instead of truly exploiting the advantages of quantum computers over classical computers.
Finally, Gurianov’s conclusion leaves no doubt about their feeling on this subject:
Well, it’s hard to say exactly when the bubble will burst, but at some point the claims will be uncovered and the funding will dry up.
I just hope that when the music stops and the bubble bursts, the public will still listen to us physicists.
toil and trouble
In the words of the great Jules Winnfield, Samuel Jackson’s character from the classic film Pulp Fiction, “Well, allow me to retort.”
I have only five words to say to Gourianov, and they are: IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Intel.
I don’t think we need to dive deep into big tech’s balance sheets to explain that none of these companies are in financial danger.
Yet each of them is developing quantum computers.
It’s unclear why Dr. Gouryanov would completely exclude big tech from the argument.
There are dozens and dozens of articles from Google and IBM alone demonstrating breakthrough after breakthrough in the field.
Guryanov’s main argument against quantum computing seems, inexplicably, to be that they won’t be very useful in cracking quantum-resistant encryption.
With all due respect, that’s like saying we shouldn’t be developing surgical scalpels because they’re pretty much useless against chain mail.
According to Guryanov’s article:
Shor’s algorithm has been a boon to the quantum industry, resulting in untold funding from government security agencies around the world.
However, the commonly overlooked caveat here is that there are many alternative cryptographic schemes that are not vulnerable to quantum computers.
It would be far from impossible to simply replace these vulnerable schemes with so-called “quantum-secure” schemes.
This seems to suggest that Guryanov thinks that at least some physicists have thrown a bait and switch at governments and investors by convincing everyone that we need quantum computers for security.
This argument seems a bit juvenile and looks like borderline conspiracy theory.
Governments around the world have been working in tandem with experts from companies such as Google spinout SandboxAQ and IBM for several years to solve the encryption problem.
No serious decision-maker will be confused about how math works because of some shitty hype or misleading headline.
Gurianov’s rhetoric peaks as they seem to accuse physicists of manipulating the hype around quantum computing out of sheer greed:
Some physicists think, privately, that there is no problem here: why not take advantage of the situation while it lasts, and take easy money from unsophisticated investors? Earning a salary at the private sector level while doing mostly academic research is pretty good business, after all.
That’s quite the accusation.
Quantum computing bubble?
Overall, though, it seems Guryanov’s main complaint isn’t that quantum computers don’t work, it’s that they aren’t very useful.
Dr. Goryanov is not wrong.
The technology is far from mature.
But make no mistake, today’s quantum computing systems work.
They just don’t perform well enough to replace conventional computers for many useful functions – yet.
Looking at the track record above, keep in mind that IBM was founded in 1911.
He didn’t build the IBM 5150, the company’s first PC, until 1981.
Along the way, many reputable scientists have declared the PC market to be a bubble.
Opponents claimed that it was not only unnecessary for consumers, but that there were simply too many problems to overcome to make computers affordable and useful for personal use.
We all know how it worked for IBM.
Do we even need to go into what Intel, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have accomplished during their ventures? They each have their own roadmap for how they approach STEM challenges related to quantum computing.
The same goes for MIT, Harvard, Oxford and a myriad of other universities.
I’m by no means a big tech connoisseur, but there’s a lot to be said for a handful of worthy companies somewhere in the world. trillion dollars mark everyone deciding that a forward-looking tech vertical is worth betting their bankbooks on.
It is beyond the scope of this article to address all sub-trillion dollar quantum computing companies.
But, after talking to dozens of people working at various quantum computing companies, including those Gurianov mentioned, it’s clear to me that no one who builds quantum computers has any misconceptions about their capabilities – not even the leaders of the C-suite.
If the VCs are confused and the hype distorts the possibilities of the technology, I would call it by for the course.
I can’t think of a single modern technology that mainstream journalism masters all the time.
And a significant portion of wealthy VCs will be both impatient and ignorant of a given technology – should we also be discussing investments in AI or Web3?
The future is now
In my opinion, it would take a scientific shock comparable to the discovery of a viable antithesis for Newton’s laws for the bottom to fall from the quantum computing industry.
We are not talking about theoretical technology, we are talking about emerging technology.
Quantum computers are here now.
But like the IBM 5150 in 1981, they really don’t do anything that ordinary computers of their time couldn’t already do.
Still, I’d be interested to hear what anyone who said the PC market was a bubble in 1981 has to say about it now.
I imagine we will all see quantum computers differently in 40 years.
Quantum computing may be a bubble market for VCs looking for short-term ROI projects, but the technology isn’t going anywhere.
There is overwhelming evidence that today’s quantum computing technology is rapidly advancing to the point where it can help us solve problems that are unfeasible for classical computing.
Perhaps there is a group of greedy scientists who peddle unwarranted optimism to VCs and entrepreneurs.
But I’d bet there are more curious scientists and engineers who have chosen this field because they really want to build quantum computers.
*Tristan Greene covers advances in human-centric artificial intelligence, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming for The Next Web.
This article first appeared on thenextweb.com.
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