Quantum Computer’s Innovation Paradox

‘Hard tech’, innovation has overruled ‘tech’ innovation. There’s no room for the likes of a Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg in quantum computer development. It’s about financial resources and getting PhDs onboard. It’s black and white

0
63

Once Upon a Time

We’ve all heard the stories, from sweet zero to a billion-dollar valuation. These are the humble garage beginnings in history of numerous tech startups, from Amazon to Google to Apple. Once upon a time, it was possible. Although money could be an issue, brains, a dream and determination were equally important. Be in hardware or software, if you had sound knowledge of electronics, basic programming skills and marketing savvy, you could create something.

Apple did it with the Apple One, thanks mostly to Steve Wozniak.

Google, a research project at college for Larry Page and Sergei Brin, who believed they had a market for it. And their supreme coding abilities.

There are countless others, yet what they all have in common is they can apply technical skills already acquired onto the marketplace.

It’s easier with tech.

But there’s a step up:

Hard tech.

Quantum computing is hard tech.

I see no startups, and I mean ‘garage startups’, entering the arena any time soon.

It’s impossible, unreal to suppose it.

It’s all black and white, north to south. Opposite’s certainly don’t attract here.

Startups

Xanadu (not the song), QC Ware, ColdQuanta. I can count them on one hand. These are classed as startups, companies competing against the main players like IBM and Google, but they’re not true startups, are they?

Far from it, in fact.

Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

Take a look at these numbers for a moment if you will:

ColdQuanta raised a total of $6.8M in July 2018.

QC Ware got nearly as much, $6.5M, in the same year.

This year, Xanadu (I’m still hearing Olivia Newton-John’s now) managed to get a whopping $32M in series A funding.

Notice anything strange?

I do.

I don’t think Steve Jobs, Page and Brin got offered this sort of money from the get-go.

And don’t argue and say ‘but these companies are much older than that, and that these numbers are from this or last year.’ ColdQuanta, founded in 2007, has its roots at the Institute and Physics Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It was backed by university people.

So money’s around.

QC Ware, came to life — as it says on the website —The company was founded in 2014 by a world-class team of physicists, computer scientists, and quantum algorithm experts.’

Hardly cash poor, I’d say.

Lastly, we have Xanadu, which was founded in 2016, and again I pulled this off their website: ‘Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, we’ve brought together exceptional minds from around the world to build something extraordinary’.

Now, Xanadu’s hardly bootstrapped!

The 62

There are others, too. According to Wikipedia, there are 62 companies in the quantum computing space as of July 2019. Maybe five to seven represent the boys like Intel or Honeywell. The rest, much like the three above, with far less cash than the behemoths but hardly starving and in need of a major cash injection.

You see, there’s a pattern to all this. Either they’re huge, multinational companies or rather offshoots of universities or research establishments backed by government funding.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Hardly your classic startup adventure in the mould of Hewlett Packard or Disney fame.

And many experts can’t see it ever changing in quantum computers. It just too hard an industry, with too much specialist knowledge needed to get started, knowledge that most snotty-nosed 16 and 17-year-olds do not possess, unfortunately.

The days when quantum computing’s Bill Gates or Vitalik Buterin appear from the ether will never materialize.

Paradigm Wall

We’ve reached a ‘paradigm wall’, where the three steps of invention, innovation and diffusion have been interrupted through hard tech’s innate problems.

As in quantum computers’ case, the invention has already happened — D-Wave Systems saw to that in 1999. Now we are at the stage of innovation, and I’m afraid the cost of the hardware and software applications is too prohibitive for an indie garage ensemble to make a go of it.

Where are we now with quantum computers in regard to measuring them up against the classical computer age?

1822 and Charles Babbage’s difference engine?

The early 1940s and Konrad Zuse Z1?

A decade later?

At NASA’s level of sophistication when they sent Apollo 11 to the Moon in 1969?

The answer could be contentious.

Probably at the very beginning, really.

So, that’s it then, startups, VCs and any Doctor Frankensteins out there should give up on their dreams and start another hobby?

Not so.

Just because you’ll never have a truly garage-based company in QC, doesn’t mean innovative, clever people, without a college Ph.D. will never be able to get involved.

The key is open source, especially in QC software and programming applications to design and test quantum algorithms.

That’s where the innovation will be, at least for your lone rangers trying to get into the industry.

Industry Models

ProjectQ, based in Zurich, Switzerland, is one such company. They state they are: an open-source software framework for quantum computing started at ETH Zurich. It allows users to implement their quantum programs in Python using a powerful and intuitive syntax. ProjectQ can then translate these programs to any type of back-end, be it a simulator run on a classical computer or an actual quantum chip. Please, check out our paper and the features page for more information before getting started with the Code & Docs.

Microsoft, too, has their Q# quantum computing programming language and IBM its Qiskit 0.10.

Saul good, then, in the open-source QC sphere, but none of this equals a bootstrapped genius or geniuses entering the fray, dominating invention, innovation and diffusion, revolutionizing quantum architectural systems and making our lives somewhat better.

Yet we can wish.