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Tech Giants Dominate Quantum Computing But It's Still Anybody's Game

February 02, 2022 Information Management
David Roe
By David Roe

Much has been said in recent months about how new technology has helped companies navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the digital workplace and facilitating remote work. Perhaps a less popular conversation, however, is how other emerging technologies are also gaining traction at the enterprise level.

Quantum computing, for instance, is one such technology that is now regarded as likely to disrupt enterprise computing in the coming years. Quantum computers take advantage of quantum states at the atomic and subatomic level to perform calculations at a speed and sophistication substantially greater than existing computers.

While the technology is still in its early days, tech giants are taking big leaps to try to dominate the market — an indication there could be broader applications for quantum computing in the near future.

There may be no way for enterprise leaders who balk at introducing new technology that could disrupt their already disrupted digital transformation efforts to get away from quantum computing. Big technology companies have already started throwing lots of money at it in hopes of playing a role in this emerging market, if not dominate it.

Big Tech and Quantum Computing

Last December, CBInsights took a deeper dive into the role Big Tech is playing and found that, like many other areas of the digital workplace, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Intel are already starting to carve up the market, leaving little space for smaller, innovative companies. The report is worth a look, especially for tech buyers and strategists in enterprises able to invest in quantum in the next five years.

Among the findings:

  • Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Intel are all developing their own quantum computing hardware.
  • Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have all launched quantum computing services on their cloud platforms, and numerous startups have partnered with these big tech companies to offer remote access to a broad range of quantum computers.
  • Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Intel all have ambitious quantum roadmaps and are poised to forge ahead with advances in application.

In fact, the report argues that quantum will be so important globally in the coming years that we can expect quantum-forward big tech companies, including China-based Baidu and Alibaba, to be drawn deeper into political debates around computing and national agendas.

Related Article: Rebooting the Future With Quantum Computing

Planning for the Future

The rapid pace of development of quantum computing shouldn't surprise anyone, though. In 2019, IBM’s "Coming Soon to Your Business: Quantum Computing" report stated that because quantum mechanics describe how nature works at a fundamental level, quantum computing is well suited to model processes and systems that occur in nature.

According to the report, this potent capability could open the door to, for example, electric carmakers developing longer-life batteries, biotech startups rapidly developing drugs tailored to an individual patient, or more efficient fertilizer manufacturing, with exciting implications for growing the world’s food.

All of this is speculative, of course, and part of the reason why the technology is being dismissed by most enterprises at this time. But while no one has yet delivered a mathematical proof confirming that quantum computing will confer an exponential speedup for optimization problems, the report said, researchers are working on demonstrating this heuristically.

"Forward-thinking companies are already exploring solving optimization problems using quantum computing in their quest to leap ahead of competitors. Their foresight may turn to advantage after the first demonstrations of quantum advantage in optimization are confirmed," the report read.

Related Article: How Close Are IBM's Quantum Computing Predictions to Reality?

Quantum Computing in Today's Digital Workplace

There is evidence to suggest that quantum computing is already starting to insinuate itself into the digital workplace.

Jitesh Lalwani, founder of India-based Artificial Brain, which develops a SaaS platform for businesses, said it's not surprising since many complex problems that cannot be solved by existing computers, including drug discovery, protein folding and last-mile delivery optimization, can be solved by quantum computers. The result is that quantum computers could provide solutions to complex problems across sectors, from finance and healthcare, to logistics and space. 

But Big Tech’s interest in quantum stems from two different possible offerings:

  1. Quantum hardware: The race to develop scalable quantum computers is heating up, not just among big tech companies but also among startups such as IonQ, Rigetti and others, who are bringing the technology to cloud platforms for added convenience and affordability. Based on this, we can expect that the first source of income from quantum is likely to be generated by providing access to quantum computers.
  2. Quantum software: While companies such as IBM and Google publish libraries to access their hardware such as Qiskit and Cirq, several startups like Cambridge Quantum Computing and Multiverse Computing are involved in building quantum software and collaborating with Big Tech on research and development.

So, who will come out on top? Although it is too early to say this, IBM seems to have a considerable lead over other companies when it comes to hardware and software libraries. Additionally, Lalwani said, there are many quantum startups that lead software development in small companies.

Related Article: Rebooting the Future With Quantum Computing

A Nascent Technology

Trying to identify a top player in a field that has yet to develop may seem a tad premature, according to tech advisor and entrepreneur Vaclav Vincalek of Canada-based 555 vCTO, which advises startups and growing companies on technology. He said that could lead some to believe that quantum computers are production-ready, that they'll replace "classical" computers shortly, and quantum computers are faster.

“Quantum computers are still a lab and research thing," he said. "Even the case studies coming from D-Wave, the most advanced quantum computer commercially available today, show that the practical side of quantum computers is years away."

Vincalek said quantum computers will be good at optimization tasks, computational protein design in drug development, financial modeling, traffic optimization, cybersecurity and other specific problems. But will a quantum computer help you with your next project? Probably not yet.

“There is still lots of work that all the vendors have to put in to make it,” he said.

That does not mean to write them off entirely. CIOs and CTOs seeking new technologies that will provide their company with a competitive edge in five years should consider quantum computing. It may be too early to implement but definitely not too early to start planning to get ahead of the competition.

Related Article: Quantum Computing: Challenges, Trends and the Road Ahead

Quantum Market Convergence?

Travis Lindemoen, managing director of IT staffing company nexus IT Group, said it's not surprising that the tech titans have the know-how and assets to maintain headway in quantum computing.

But the market isn't exactly playing out as expected by many. The industry expected a round of acquisitions and mergers between major corporations and smaller ones in 2021, he said.

"[But] Rigetti and IonQ, the smaller quantum registration equipment … continued to operate independently in 2020," he said.

There are numerous explanations for why these firms were not acquired by major industry pioneers in 2021, from a considerable increase in rivalry to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lindemoen said there is still potential for acquisitions in the near future, pointing to the fact that other major equipment manufacturers have entered the quantum market in 2021.

Toshiba Corporation, for example, announced its Quantum Computing Key Distribution (QKD) framework business in October, estimating that its high level cryptographic innovation for information security will generate $3 billion in revenue by 2030.

The simple fact of the matter, Lindemoen said, is that it is still far too early to see who is going to emerge as the top player in the quantum market.

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