Quantum Computer Software Sales without a Quantum Computer
The hard sell of quantum software
Selected notes ~
+ Across the world, small companies are springing up to sell software for a type of hardware that could be a long, long way from maturity. Their aim: to exploit today’s quantum machines to their fullest potential, and get a foot in the door while the market is still young. But is there really a market for quantum software now, when the computers that might run it are still at such an early stage of development?
Across the world, small companies are springing up to sell software for a type of hardware that could be a long, long way from maturity. Their aim: to exploit today’s quantum machines to their fullest potential, and get a foot in the door while the market is still young. But is there really a market for quantum software now, when the computers that might run it are still at such an early stage of development?
+ Quantum computers certainly have potential. In theory, they can solve problems that classical computers cannot handle at all, at least in any realistic time frame. Take factorization. Finding prime factors for a given integer can be very time consuming, and the bigger the integer gets, the longer it takes. Indeed, the sheer effort required is part of what keeps encrypted data secure, since decoding the encrypted information requires one to know a “key” based on the prime factors of a very large integer.
+ In 2009, a dozen researchers and several hundred classical computers took two years to factorize a 768-bit (232-digit) number used as a key for data encryption. The next number on the list of keys consists of 1024 bits (309 digits), and it still has not been factorized, despite a decade of improvements in computing power. A quantum computer, in contrast, could factorize that number in a fraction of a second – at least in principle.
+ Today’s biggest universal quantum computer – or at least the biggest one anyone is talking about publicly – is Google’s Bristlecone, which consists of 72 superconducting qubits. In second place comes IBM’s 50 superconducting-qubit model. Other firms, including Intel, Rigetti and IonQ, have built smaller yet still sizeable quantum computers based on superconducting, electron, trapped-ion and other types of qubit. “In terms of advanced machines capable of processing more than one or two qubits, there are several dozen systems currently in existence globally,” says Michael Biercuk, a quantum physicist at the University of Sydney, Australia.
+ That might not sound like enough to constitute a market for quantum software. However, Biercuk argues that the overall market for quantum technologies – including not just computing but also sensing, metrology and imaging – could be worth billions of dollars in the next four years. In 2017, Biercuk gained “multi-million dollar” funding from venture capitalists to found a company, Q-CTRL, and take a slice of this pie. Now, two years later, the company has 25 employees, has reported an additional $15m in investment and is in the process of opening a second office in Los Angeles, US.
Content may have been edited for style and clarity.