The enterprise quantum computing roadmap: Lessons from the world’s biggest quantum gathering
The race to viable quantum computing in the enterprise world has never been as heated as it is in the current moment. An ever-growing number of Fortune 500 organizations are leaning into quantum, making significant investments in R&D to get in on the ground floor and figure out how the potential of quantum can be leveraged to address worldwide business, environmental, and social problems.
But while innovation is accelerating and quantum hardware and software organizations are meeting development milestones, we still have time left before we reach widespread, scalable, practical quantum advantage. Every day, some of the smartest people in the world, at a growing-but-still-small number of companies, try to solve entirely new sets of problems quite literally never tackled before, in pursuit of the push toward enterprise-grade quantum.
Often, they’re falling short. The problems the quantum community is trying to solve are huge. While technological advancements are consistently being achieved, the problems the quantum community is trying to solve are huge and remain out of reach. Sometimes, it can feel like hitting your head against a wall.
In short? It’s wonderful.
There’s a reason that in 20 years, those of us in the quantum computing ecosystem will look back on our current moment with immense fondness. We’re still in a pre-competition phase, working together to inch forward on an arch to progress that’s longer than what’s tolerated elsewhere in the business world.
We’re square in the middle of our halcyon days.
But that doesn’t mean we’re at an apex or that the on-ramps to quantum value are closing. Rather, the collaborative work being undertaken in the quantum community right now will only serve to accelerate innovation and breed opportunity for years to come.
Nowhere was that more evident than at the recent Q2B conference, the sixth of its kind — and the biggest yet. In the U.S., the quantum community is a self-organizing organism. We want to see what these machines can do; what these systems and algorithms are capable of.
So for three days, we pulled together stakeholders from government, academia, business, and investment, and focused on application discovery, free from the hype that sometimes dominates the discussion of quantum computing in the public square.
A general round-up paints a pretty accurate picture of the state of quantum today, as well as the excitement of what comes next. Here are some of the week’s biggest takeaways:
Industry leaders are already realizing value, with more near-term use cases solidifying
Chemicals and materials. Pharmaceuticals. Aerospace. Healthcare. Energy. Automotive. Finance.
Quantum has the potential to disrupt nearly every industry, and it’s being chased down aggressively to revolutionize machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as to optimize computational chemistry, fluid dynamics, the traveling salesman problem, and so much more.
The work isn’t theoretical, either. Whether on small-scale quantum machines or using quantum-inspired models on classical hardware, industry leaders shared the value they’ve already realized to date, as well as the acceleration expected in the next few years. BMW Group unpacked how they are leveraging quantum computing to try to improve battery chemistry in electric vehicles. Roche illustrated the gains it has already achieved in tapping novel quantum machine learning models on classical hardware to bolster medical image recognition and disease diagnostics. Goldman Sachs discussed the quantum algorithms that stand to speed up the Monte Carlo simulations it uses to inform strategic investing decisions.
In exploring the most immediate paths to value, however, there are a few clear frontrunners. Mena Issler, associate partner at McKinsey & Company, said the firm has identified pharmaceuticals, chemicals, automotive, and financial services as the four sectors with the most near-term potential — and therefore the most to be gained from immediate and robust quantum investment.
The market trajectory is coming into focus — and trending upward
As quantum hardware innovation steadily progresses, data scientists develop new quantum models to solve real-world problems, and developers design interfaces to bring user-friendly quantum applications to market, a foundation is being laid for a rapid path to growth once quantum technology matures. In other words, it will be easier for business leaders to get on the quantum train, but it will be leaving fast — so they should begin planning.
Hyperion Research is now pegging the Quantum Computing Market at about $614 million at the close of 2022, with an expected jump to $1.25 billion in 2025, at a CAGR of 25%. Meanwhile, Hyperion also reports that worries about a quantum winter — a slump or stoppage in quantum development and investment — are steadily declining, although some skepticism does remain.
Meanwhile, after an influx in investment in 2020 and 2021, Issler said McKinsey predicts a wide window for market size by 2040: $9 billion at the low end, and $93 billion at the top of the projection. Perhaps more importantly, McKinsey expects quantum advantage for real-world problems to be realized within five years, with wider availability taking 10 to 15 years.
Enterprise organizations are taking notice — and investing accordingly. Matt Langione, partner at Boston Consulting Group, said that more than 100 enterprise organizations were actively investing in quantum computing use cases in 2022, a three-fold increase from just two years prior. Just last year, about $300 million was spent on quantum proof-of-concept projects, according to BCG.
Critically, Langione said that once quantum computing reaches enterprise-grade viability, a lion’s share of the value will be won by those companies that positioned themselves as early adopters. Ninety percent of the value from the technology, Langione said, will be created by the top 10% of companies and the earliest adopters — and while there’s time to enter that class, the window is fleeting. To date, the industries that have shown the most serious levels of investment — with the most investments averaging over $1 million a year — have been aerospace and automotive, pharmaceuticals, industrials, energy, and finance, according to BCG.
We can’t ignore the security threats — and need to educate business leaders on how to prepare for them.
Setting aside the already-debunked recent claims by Chinese scientists that 2048-bit RSA encryption could be broken with existing quantum computers, there is a sunset on the horizon for current encryption methods.
Quantum computing represents not only an existential threat to traditional encryption, but also a path to harder-to-break methods and more sophisticated cryptography that can future-proof data security.
Innovating more effective cryptography and actually fully implementing new cryptography methods in the modern enterprise — where current encryption methods might be built, bought, contracted, on different cloud platforms, and shared across numerous partners with disparate cryptography programs — are two different stories.
IBM’s Ray Harishankar unpacked the urgency for business leaders to address future-proofing cryptography, as well as the four main steps business leaders should be taking now:
- Identify an internal champion
- Gain knowledge and experience
- Establish a baseline and inventory
- Prioritize and develop a plan of action
The hardware race is still undecided.
There are about 55 different hardware vendors specifically devoted to quantum computing, with varying levels of maturity and investment across technologies. More mature technologies — particularly superconducting qubits and to a lesser extent trapped-ion computers — have a head start on the investment side and to a large part still dominate much of the conversation.
But we also heard from vendors pioneering other paths to potentially practical quantum computing, like cold and neutral-atom, which have the exciting potential to quickly scale out to large arrays of qubits, photonics, which is seen as having the most promise to build large-scale fault-tolerant machines, and spin qubits, which are just about the closest thing we have right now to a solid state machine.
So what comes next?
It’s good to know the state of the state, but for those seeking the clearest path to quantum readiness and innovation, there are a few key considerations and steps to take now:
- Collaborate with quantum computing experts: Business leaders can form partnerships with academic institutions, research centers, and other organizations that are working on quantum computing to stay informed about the latest developments and gain access to cutting-edge technology. Internally, they can assemble a team of experts in the field of quantum computing to explore the potential applications of the technology to their organization.
- Keep an eye on the regulatory landscape: A nascent technology with the transformational power of quantum computing is likely to attract regulatory attention domestically and internationally. As the field advances, business leaders should stay informed of any new regulations and ensure their organization is compliant.
- Develop a quantum computing strategy: Enterprise leaders should develop a strategy for how their organization will adopt and benefit from quantum computing, including timelines and resource allocation.
For enterprise leaders, the window to capitalize on the most fruitful days of quantum computing innovation is still wide open — but it won’t be forever. While we might look back on these as the good old days of quantum down the line, the future of our industry is even brighter.