IBM's quantum computer
Photo: IBM Research

Why quantum computing is still science fiction

Protocol Enterprise

Hello and welcome to Protocol | Enterprise. Today: why quantum computing is still years away, big changes coming to Protocol | Enterprise, and an added incentive to patch the Log4j security vulnerability.

Leveling up

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Then again it will be

At any given point in time, most promising but undeveloped technologies are claimed to be several years away from their big breakthrough moment. But after those technologies have been several years away from hitting it big for several years, maybe it’s time to stop holding our breath.

It’s now time to stop waiting on quantum computing, which has been heralded as the next exponential breakthrough in computing power for decades with little real-world progress to show so far as any kind of near- or mid-term enterprise computing savior. This week experts polled by The Financial Times indicated that despite tons of work on quantum hardware from big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM as well as well-funded startups like Rigetti Computing, quantum computing won’t be ready for prime time until someone finds the killer quantum application.

Quantum researchers are now moving the goalposts in order to justify all the hype, putting their eggs in the “quantum advantage” basket, an easier goal to attain than so-called “quantum supremacy.”

  • Quantum supremacy will be reached when a quantum computer can execute a program that our “classical” computers could have never even attempted.
  • At one point Google claimed to have reached this milestone, but after it became clear that classical computers could pull off the same feat, the accomplishment lost some luster.
  • Now, “the challenge is to be among the first to help enterprise customers get quantum speed-up,” QC Ware CEO Matt Johnson told the FT, referring to quantum applications that can be used in tandem with classical applications to deliver performance gains that, while incremental, could still be useful to enterprise tech.

But when will even those goals be met? As usual in the quantum world, it’s anyone’s guess.

  • Dario Gil of IBM was willing to put a tentative time frame on it: “The ability to demonstrate quantum advantage in the next two years is possible,” so long as quantum computers can be made less noisy.
  • Despite all the hardware breakthroughs of the last couple years, quantum systems are still far too error-prone to run even basic applications, let alone the revenue-generating applications that power modern enterprises.
  • So even if the performance benefits from applications that demonstrate quantum advantage can be measured, it really doesn’t matter unless those applications are stable enough to justify spending money on what’s likely to be very expensive quantum computing time.

The biggest roadblock of all? Buyers. If there’s one thing we’ve seen time and time again in enterprise tech, it’s that most people who buy software and computing resources for big companies are conservative — almost to a fault — when it comes to adopting new technologies.

  • While some might quibble with the exact number, AWS CEO Adam Selipsky told attendees at re:Invent 2021 that only 15% of enterprise workloads have moved to the cloud, which AWS has been operating for 15 years.
  • That suggests it could be decades before even early-adopter enterprise customers kick the tires on quantum computing, outside of a few specialized areas like energy or medical research.
  • And none of this progress will be meaningful until software developers understand how to build applications for quantum computers, which will force many of them to throw decades of techniques out the window and start from scratch.

Like voice-recognition software and machine learning before it, quantum computing suffers from the weight of decades of expectations, overhyped incremental breakthroughs and the real promise it could bring to computing. Science fiction has always been a good way of predicting the future, and quantum computing will probably have its day at some point. But in just a few years, it will probably still be just a few years away.

— Tom Krazit (email | twitter)


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This week on Protocol

A new headache? Oracle’s $28.3 billion deal for Cerner was a bid to acquire artificial intelligence expertise in the health care field — one of the most promising applications for AI — along with some new cloud business. But as Kate Kaye reported, the largest deal in Oracle history could result in indigestion as it figures out how to deal with Cerner’s customer retention problems.

More than a whiteboard: Miro has been building a name for itself by selling whiteboard software. But with a $400 million in new funding and a $17.5 billion valuation, its CEO Andrey Khusid told Protocol’s Lizzy Lawrence that it’s time to branch out.

Around the enterprise

Google Cloud is acquiring Siemplify, an Israeli startup specializing in incident-response automation, as an addition to its Chronicle division for a reported $500 million.

Blackbaud acquired Everfi’s educational software portfolio for $750 million. Blackbaud specializes in cloud-based management software for nonprofits and foundations.

African data centers are seeing a lot of interest: Just one month after Equinix acquired one of Africa’s largest data-center operators, its rival Digital Realty has signed a deal to acquire Teraco, the largest company serving that market, for about $3.5 billion.

Fractal’s AI technology is used across several industries such as health care and finance, and it just raised $360 million in new funding ahead of a likely IPO.

Been wanting to use Nvidia’s Omniverse technology? The platform, which developers might one day use to build an enterprise version of the metaverse, is now generally available.

Heads up, Log4j users: if you haven’t patched your software yet in the wake of that slow-moving security disaster, understand that the FTC is standing by to fine you if your company leaks consumer data through that vulnerability.


Emerging technologies and changing needs of consumers and commercial organizations are creating significant challenges and opportunities for all enterprises. These challenges and opportunities will require companies to act quickly, creatively and with an appetite and a push for rapid adoption of new technologies.

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