Exponential View #174 – Dept of quantum computing

BCG report

Given the large potential of quantum computing, the actual investment levels are low (with one exception, see at the end of this). We reckon, from a rough LinkedIn count, that fewer than 2,000 people are involved in companies working in any part of the quantum stack (and that includes all the marketing and PR types attached to these groups in large companies). IBM Q, which runs a developer ecosystem via the IBM Quantum Experience API, should have the deepest team. My scan on LinkedIn (far from perfect) shows only 300-or-so names attached to quantum computing in all of IBM. The startups are of similar scale, Rigetti, numbering less than 150. 

Some estimates go beyond this. There are 7,000 researchers working on quantum computing around the world, a more healthy but still small number, according to the European Commission. 

The venture dollars flowing intro quantum computing is small with D-Wave ($175m), Rigetti ($70m), Cambridge Quantum Computing ($50m) and IonQ ($20m) leading the pack. The European Commission further estimates that total global annual investment in quantum research is some €1.5bn per annum. (Deloitte has further estimates: suggesting that there is about $2.2bn investments globally by governments in quantum computing.) 

So quantum computing is Schrodinger’s opportunity, simultaneously here and not here at the same time. 

On the one hand, quantum computing is getting all the accoutrements of a technology close to maturity (press briefings, Gartner reports, analysis from investment banks and management consultancies) and the large tech firms are trumpeting working systems within 5 years. 

On the other, investment levels are tiny by the standards of what large companies can put to work, or what VCs invest (Wag, a dog-walking app, recently raised $300m.) This suggests that these smart investors are discounting the potential upside very heavily, i.e. there are many hurdles, which these investors cannot easily enumerate, to overcome or the time frame to realise is very long.
Which is it? Close to maturity or facing a long journey? 

Only two years ago, I was pretty sceptical about where quantum computing was in its cycle. And as Jerry Neumann points out, quantum computing was only “five years away” back in 2000, so quantum could be one of those technologies, like controllable fusion, that is always just around the corner.