I caught the quantum computing bug in the spring of 2018. When Matt Johnson, CEO of a software startup in Palo Alto, reached out to me, I was in an established and safe position with IBM, selling advanced analytics software. I was on a great team with amazing managers, and it felt like I could continue working my way up the corporate ladder at a well-known company with great prospects.
We had our initial conversation at a cafe in Palo Alto. Matt said he was building a software company for practical quantum computing. I was very intrigued. Quantum computing has amazing potential to accelerate everything we currently do in machine learning and optimization. I discovered very quickly there were even more promising applications in all kinds of simulations for chemistry, finance, and aerospace. And that was when I first started considering a move to this little-known quantum computing startup called QC Ware.
My wife was immediately opposed to the idea. In all fairness to her, she encouraged me to move away from IBM from time to time and explore other things. But a quantum computing startup didn’t feel like the right move to her. I think she was mostly concerned that my excitement over the prospects of quantum computing might bias my judgement.
After some back and forth, I decided to take the job, heading sales for a startup that had no commercially available product, to run on hardware that was almost non-existent, selling a technology that was completely unproven. To paraphrase quantum computing luminary Scott Aaronson, I was going to sell solutions that don’t work on computers that we don’t have.
Right from the get-go I faced a major challenge – what is my sales pitch? How do I convince anyone to buy software for computers that are literally slower than your kid’s five-year old laptop?
As a sales manager at IBM, I was taught to always ask my team what is the “compelling reason to act.” Why does a customer need to sign on the line today, as opposed to waiting one, two, or even six months? Frankly, I spent quite some time wondering that myself, and remember, I was having a hard time convincing my better half, let alone strangers.
However, I was convinced that I was looking at the early days of a new revolution – something that would reshape the computing world. And getting in early was an unbelievable opportunity.
But even getting in was not going to be that easy. After all, everyone already at QC Ware realized the potential and knew how hard it is to convince anyone to buy into quantum computing.
So, the question of “how do you sell this?” was not a theoretical test, but a practical one. As part of coming on board at QC Ware, I presented my pitch to QC Ware’s board without a playbook to draw on. I had to figure that out in real time.
And this is still a question I get today — why engage in quantum computing now, when the technology is still multiple years away, maybe three to five years on the inside.
My answer is insurance, quantum insurance to be exact. It may sound like a bad used-car-salesman joke, but that is my pitch, and I am sticking to it.
Quantum computers have the potential to disrupt all processes and operations that are compute-intensive, such as machine learning, optimization, and chemistry simulations. Yes, it is not 100 percent certain when or how quantum disruption will happen, but neither is a storm that will flood your basement or the careless texting driver that will rear-end you. But you still buy insurance for both.
Quantum computing will disrupt business, launch new markets, create new product categories, and change everything we now take for granted, just like machine learning changed everything in the last five years. Yes, I checked – it was only five years ago that we didn’t have Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Google’s AlphaGo was not yet the best player in the world for Go and the best Starcraft players were all human. You had to completely rely on your doctor to read your MRI accurately, and autonomous vehicles were just something that a couple of VCs had placed some long bets on.
So when people tell me that five years is still too far away for them to worry about the impact of quantum computing on their business, I ask them, “How many years, people, and dollars did you sink into your company’s digital transformation initiative before it was successful?”
Injecting machine learning into business processes took years to figure out. Finding the data scientists, getting them up to speed on the business, launching the right pilot project to test things, and then finally moving into production requires huge investments in resources and time.
The other question I ask Fortune 500 R&D and innovation managers is, knowing what you know today, what would you have done five years ago to help accelerate the adoption of machine learning and AI inside your organization? The answer I hear repeatedly is: getting the right people in the right positions, building the right skills base into the organization, finding the right business units, and failing and trying again, sooner rather than later.
And the right people who can help build quantum computing skills is what QC Ware offers. People who can offer early insights into how quantum computing will impact and benefit your business so that you don’t feel like you are flying blind. We provide some peace of mind for how quickly this quantum computing thing will hit you, and what you can start doing today to prepare for it.
Quantum insurance – this is why leaders in many industries are already building dedicated quantum computing teams: Airbus in aerospace, Aisin Group and the BMW Group in automotive, Equinor in oil and gas, and Goldman Sachs in finance.
To summarize, here is why you need a quantum insurance agent:
- You don’t want to get blindsided and find out from others what is possible. You should have a quantum strategy and contingency plans.
- If you wait for the technology to mature, it will be too late. You need to start training people that can hit the ground running as soon as the technology gets there. Training people takes time, literally years.
- Technology timeframes are always shrinking. Twenty years ago, people thought quantum computing was a sci-fi dream. Ten years ago, most people believed practical quantum computers were 50 years out. Today, we think they are three to five years away.