Q-CTRL Digest

Quantum computing industry 2019 retrospective and 2020 predictions

December 12, 2019
Written by
Prof. Michael J. Biercuk
Prof. Michael J. Biercuk

2019 Quantum Computing Industry Retrospective

What were the most significant industry accomplishments in 2019 and why?

There is no doubt that the demonstration of quantum supremacy ranks as not only the most significant industry accomplishment of the year, but of the field.  It’s always worth reflecting a bit to realize how much went into this effort, with efforts spanning many universities around the world. But Google’s investment in the Martinis team from UCSB and their efforts to demonstrate the true potential of quantum computing on behalf of the entire sector are to be applauded.  Q-CTRL is very excited to see how this demonstration seeds a greater expansion of effort in industry, spanning software and hardware.

What was the most surprising aspect of 2019 for the quantum computing industry?

It’s been surprising to see the beginnings of a contraction in investment in the sector.  There is no doubt that startups like Q-CTRL and others have managed to secure substantial investment from top-tier VCs (and some eye-watering investment rounds have been closed), but overall the landscape has become somewhat more challenging as the true timelines to realizing quantum advantage in economically relevant problems has become clear.  In a sense this is a good thing, in that it weeds out irrational investors from the market. Nonetheless, it has been disappointing to see some high quality teams struggle with fundraising when their efforts are so exceptionally strong.

What were the biggest technology and business challenges that quantum computing faced?

Noise and error in quantum hardware remain the critical limitations of quantum computing hardware, and can even be described as the Achilles heel of the technology.  Fortunately, Q-CTRL has invested heavily in the development of scientific techniques and professionally engineered products aiming to address this challenge. As we move from the first demonstrations of the viability of quantum computing to realizing practical utility for commercially relevant problems, this challenge will become front of mind.

This objective arises at the same time that the industry will need to face a substantial cultural change.  Most teams still maintain a deep do-it-yourself as founders and senior leaders have largely come from academic physics research.  As an industry we need to learn from software development, which relies heavily on integrating third-party tools and products in order to maximize efficiency and support scaling.  Quantum computing is too large for any one team to tackle every problem; there’s a huge opportunity to leverage the specialized expertise growing in the sector to massively accelerate efforts.

By analogy, no one in tech builds their own cloud security software.  The functionality provided is essential for business continuity, risk mitigation, and maintainability, so it’s outsourced to true specialist experts.  Dealing with errors in quantum computing should be viewed in the same way,

What were the main accomplishments for Q-CTRL?

In 2019 we had a number of major accomplishments worthy of note.  First, our team began the rollout of our professional-grade Python tools for the integration of quantum control into quantum computing hardware.  This software suite called Boulder Opal joined our first “introductory” product Black Opal on the market, and has already attracted top-tier customers and users across academia and industry.  Building on this effort and our successful research engagements we have also been able to secure a major funding round allowing us to grow our efforts in quantum computing and beyond.  We were thrilled to add SquarePeg Capital and Sierra Ventures to our Tier-1 investor syndicate.

2020 Quantum Computing Industry Predictions

How much will interest in the technology grow from investors and vertical industries?

The demonstration of quantum supremacy is highly likely to drive major attention towards the field, and shift the perspectives of those investors and potential end-users who have remained on the sidelines until now.  As this investment drives the diversification of active industrial hardware teams, Q-CTRL will be ready to assist, helping teams accelerate their efforts through professionally engineered infrastructure software. We will of course also work hard to ensure that the timelines to demonstration of useful quantum computing applications are fully understood as a trusted participant in the industry.

What are the potential pitfalls to the growth of quantum computing next year?

The potential downsides we see will not be immediate, but may have their roots in developments this coming year.  First, we want to ensure that the successes seen in 2019 don’t lead to a divestment from basic research in the field.  There are still more unanswered questions than answered, and we need a well funded academic research sector as much as industrial activity at scale.  Next, we need to ensure that the field remains open and globally engaged – characteristics that have led to the successes we’ve seen recently. Poorly crafted and nationalistic export controls could seriously damage progress in the field.  Finally, it’s essential that we ensure that in the wake of quantum supremacy – and the inevitable debates around it – that we don’t allow irrational exuberance to mask the fact that quantum computing remains the deepest of deeptech, and useful applications remain some years away.

What is Q-CTRL’s business outlook for 2020?  What does it need to do to succeed?

2020 will be Q-CTRL’s third full year of operation, and will see a major expansion of efforts following our Series A fundraising in 2019.  First and foremost, we will continue building professionally engineered products that provide totally new features which cannot be matched by existing tools.  The combination of advanced error-suppressing capability across the stack, and professional cloud-based software engineering is a truly unique offering that we are excited to grow.  Next, we will ramp up our geographic expansion, building out our Los Angeles office and establishing a physical presence in the EU. This expansion allows us to be closer to our colleagues and customers, and to ensure we attract the best quantum control talent globally, adding to our already exceptional team.  Finally, we will be expanding our product offerings beyond quantum computing to service applications in precision navigation and timing, as well as quantum sensing for defense and aerospace. Building out our product offerings outside of quantum computing is a key strategy for us to become the trusted provider of quantum control solutions across all applications globally.

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