Quantum Today, Quantum Tomorrow – Some Reflections on 2020 and Views Toward 2021

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As 2020 begins winding down, it is important to examine how far quantum computing and technology (QC&T) has come this year and what is likely to happen in the coming year. This year has certainly been one of advancement. We have seen many new companies created and existing quantum efforts expand.

Perhaps the one term that best describes QC&T in 2020 is unprecedented in the face of a worldwide pandemic and a retreating economy. This continued advancement has caught the attention of many and even some in the education industry worldwide. We have seen a number of organizations in higher education, mostly universities, launch QC&T programs. There have even been a few announcements of efforts to insert quantum related programs in some high schools. It’s also wise to recognize the increased growth of published materials (articles, webinars, magazines and white papers) that are now examining practical business uses of quantum computing and technology.

The result of all of this is certainly amplifying the level of awareness and basic understanding of quantum computing and technology and their business applications and implications. So, 2020 has increased the level of interest and QC&T exploration in the general business community and that is a BIG STEP! These actions and so much more combine to make 2020 the year of a leap forward in the advancement and commercialization in the technology lifecycle models of quantum. All of this just scratches the surface of what has taken place in 2020. Now, let’s take a glimpse into 2021 and what might await the world in terms of quantum.

It is important to note that no one has the secret formula for accurately predicting the future and that is certainly true in this case. The quantum computing and technology industry movement is likely to see another year of continued growth and formalizations as a new segment of the technology industry. In the United States back in August 2019, the White House announced its plan to increase AI and Quantum Tech funding by 30%. Also, within the U.S. Government, the Department of Energy (DOE) will deploy an exascale computer in 2021 – that is expected to complement DOE’s quantum computing initiatives. Also as reported back in 2020, the 1st IBM Quantum Computer will be installed over in Europe early on in 2021.

On top of those events, in 2021, companies will be publicizing specific quantum computing software applications. Many of these are in the latter stages of development already. Perhaps the most important driver of this growth is practical quantum computing and technology use cases that are much more than theory. They are operational in terms of business and creating value. Some of the 2021 operational use cases will likely include artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, robots and advanced IoT sensors. This will result in multiple segments of quantum computing and technology popping up on the radar screens of more executives, boards and business strategist as their anticipated value increases and projected near-term applications become increasingly enticing.

Moving out of basic research into applied research and the very early stages of commercialization will advance in 2021 and have its challenges. I would be remiss if I did not address the current short-fall in educational activities around quantum. The demand for quantum talent will grow once again with a sharp increase in staffing at the Associates, Bachelors, Masters and even professional certification levels. In the coming year, helping to mitigate this short-fall of talent there are a number of quantum related internships that have already been announced and some still have applications being accepted. The contributions an intern could make at this early stage of commercialization should not be underestimated.

As with the advancement of any new or emerging technology, there comes some down-falls/short-falls and the quantum movement will undoubtably experience an increasing number of those starting in the coming year. In 2021, quantum companies will remain challenged and likely the impact will be felt and become much more apparent even hitting the balance sheet. After all, the biggest down-fall/shortfall will be the shortage of quantum computing and technology professionals. You can’t grow if you do not have access to qualified talent. There is no quick or easy solution to this issue.

Another concern that is growing is the possibility that in 2021, the quantum computing and technology industry will see the entry of governmental policies and regulations. That impact is a giant unknown as well as what countries will be the first, to author those policies and regulations. We are likely to see a couple of quantum computing and technology initiatives fall short of expectations, fold, or fail to obtain further funding. You can bet those will draw a great deal of media attention as well as from the Doubting-Thomas community. As usual, these will likely get an unfair amount of publicity and in negative commentaries from the naysayers who will be out in force. That will have a noticeable negative effect on many in the QC&T industry.

All that took place in 2020, certainly makes 2021 an exciting year to look forward to. The exact trajectory and velocity of quantum computing and technology point to an industry that will be moving ahead rapidly. And, with all that appears likely to happen in 2021, that year will surpass and expand our vision of the future of this rapidly emerging technology.

Kevin Coleman is a strategic advisor, speaker and author at ETENS. For over 30 years, he's forecast of emerging technologies. His 2019 webinar on them drew over 30,000.

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