- Quantum computers are able to process information millions of times faster than classic computers.
- The quantum computing market is projected to reach $64.98 billion by 2030.
- Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Intel are racing to build quantum computing tools.
- This article is part of a series about cloud technology called At Cloud Speed.
Today, our phones are millions of times more powerful than the computers that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.
Technologists are now exploring the power of quantum computers that are 100 million times faster than any classical computer that will, in theory, be able to solve computation problems deemed impossible today. The appeal of quantum computers is the promise of helping to quickly answer questions so difficult that it would take decades for today’s computers to solve.
“The differences between quantum computers and classical computers are even more vast than those between classical computers and pen and paper,” Peter Chapman, CEO of quantum startup IonQ, told Insider. “Because quantum computers process information differently, they are expected to be able to address humanity’s greatest challenges.”
Companies and researchers are racing to conquer the massive opportunity, but what exactly is a quantum computer?
Regular computers use bits to store information that only has two states: zero or one. Quantum computers, however, allow subatomic particles to exist in more than one state simultaneously so that they can exist as either a zero, a one, or both at the same time.
Quantum bits, called “qubits,” can thus handle a much vaster amount of information much faster than a normal computer.
Quantum computers are not meant to replace typical computers. In practice, they will be separate instruments used to solve complex, data-heavy problems, particularly those that make use of machine learning, where the system can make predictions and improve over time.
Big companies are investing in quantum tech
Quantum computing has progressed from a research experiment to a tool on the brink of transforming a variety of industries, including medicine — where quantum computers have achieved rapid DNA sequencing — and transportation — where they have precisely predicted future traffic volumes.
Experts expect quantum computing to help us understand biology and evolution, cure cancer, and even take steps to reverse climate change. The quantum computing market is projected to reach $64.98 billion by 2030 from just $507.1 million in 2019.
Additionally, AT&T partnered with the California Institute of Technology to form the Alliance for Quantum Technologies (AQT) with the goal of bringing “industry, government, and academia together to speed quantum technology development and emerging practical applications.” Meanwhile, quantum-focused startups D-Wave and IonQ have raised $199.69 million and $84 million respectively, per PitchBook.
One of the major goals companies are currently striving for is so-called quantum supremacy, when a quantum computer performs a calculation that no classical computer can perform in a reasonable amount of time. In October 2019, Google claimed it reached quantum supremacy, though this claim was disputed.
Some experts, like Intel’s director of quantum hardware, Jim Clarke, think that quantum supremacy is even besides the point: The real goal should be “quantum practicality” he told IEEE, referring to the point when quantum computers can actually do something life-changing and unique. Yes, quantum computers have begun completing basic tasks, but researchers are still slowly inching towards that threshold of quantum computers being able to do anything game-changing.
Experts say there’s plenty of work ahead.
“Quantum computing is easily five to 10 years out before it can actually deliver any sort of meaningful value,” VP analyst at Gartner Chirag Dekate told Insider. That’s in part because there are still so many problems to be solved around the physics of quantum computing, like stabilizing the qubits in a system.
Still, Forrester principal analyst Brian Hopkins told Insider that because there will be an exponential curve of capabilities once quantum takes off, the time for investment is now.
“That’s why smart companies are investing today,” Hopkins said. “They know when we’re going to be able to do something useful, how it’s going to impact their industry, and when we might get to that kind of point in the curve where things really take off.”