Rob Hays, CEO
At the beginning of last year, I published my 2022 Quantum Computing Tech Predictions. I expected big advancements in technology development and the breadth of involvement and thought it would be interesting to look back and see how good my crystal ball was. Here were my top six quantum computing predictions for 2022 and my comments on how it played out.
Newer quantum computing modalities would achieve eye-opening breakthroughs.
I predicted we would see an acceleration of technical demonstrations and product readiness in neutral atom technology, which in turn would build further interest in the modality and elevate awareness to be on par with the earlier technical approaches.
Neutral atom quantum computing technologies gained a lot of traction in 2022. Various outlets published articles about the promise of neutral atoms in 2022, some of which referred to this approach as a “dark horse” in the quantum computing race or that it recently “quickened pulses in the quantum community.” I like these descriptions because neutral atoms are a younger technology than superconducting or trapped ion systems yet are progressing rapidly.
In May, we published a paper in Nature Communications demonstrating record coherence times of 40 seconds. In September, researchers from various institutions won the Breakthrough Foundation’s New Horizons Prize in Physics for their work advancing optical tweezers, which are a fundamental component for neutral atom systems being developed by Atom Computing. In November, QuEra became the first neutral atom quantum computer company to make their analog quantum computers available on the cloud via Amazon Braket.
Momentum is building in neutral atom-based quantum computing now that the technology stack has been proven to work by multiple academic and industry organizations. I believe 2023 will be a banner year for demonstrating the scalability of the technology, which is one of the value-props that is attracting so much attention.
Increased attention on NISQ use-cases at various scales
While hardware providers are playing the long game of scaling the number of qubits to reach fault-tolerance, I predicted we would see application developers find novel ways of using Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) machines for a modest set of use-cases in financial services, aerospace, logistics, and perhaps pharma or chemistry. While I expected developers to figure out how to gain value out of NISQ systems with thousands of qubits, I didn’t think the hardware would quite get there in 2022.
Application developers did indeed deliver. Quantum South partnered with D-Wave to study airplane cargo loading. Japan-based Qunasys proposed a hybrid quantum-classical algorithm for chemistry modeling. Entropica Labs in Singapore developed an approach for finding minimum vertex cover (optimization for problems such as water networks, synthetic biology, and portfolio allocation.) They also deployed OpenQAOA, an open-source software development kit to create, refine, and run the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (QAOA) on NISQ devices and simulators.
Leading Cloud Service Providers would double down on quantum computing.
Citing the major cloud service providers’ unique abilities and motivation to own quantum computing hardware and software technologies, I expected US and Chinese providers to double down on quantum computing to ensure they have viable technology options that can meet their “hyper-scale” needs and capture a significant share of the value chain in the future. I predicted some will invest in multiple, competing technologies in the form of organic R&D, acquisitions, and partnerships or all the above in many cases.
This might be the hardest prediction to accurately judge the results of because much of what the cloud service providers do is shrouded in secrecy for years until they are ready to unveil new products and services. Furthermore, the underlying infrastructure that supports their AI-driven services is often proprietary and never fully disclosed publicly.
Nevertheless, we can see the importance of quantum computing to these companies based on their significant investments in quantum computing people, facilities, and R&D revealed in public announcements. The top 3 U.S. based cloud service providers each have internal teams investing in various quantum computing research to develop platforms of their own. At the same time, they have public market places to host third-party quantum computing platforms to give users best of breed choice on what hardware to run their QIS software applications on. While we didn’t see any major acquisitions of pure-play quantum computing companies by the cloud service providers in 2022, I think it’s only a matter of time until we do.
Investments in Quantum would continue to break records.
Coming off a record year in 2021 of venture capital investment in Quantum Computing surpassing $1.7B, according to McKinsey, some were talking of a quantum bubble and a looming quantum winter. Given that much more investment is required to deliver large-scale quantum computing and the enormous forecasted market value, I expected the amount of money invested to continue rising with even more companies entering the race. With one company publicly listed in Q4 2021 and two more companies signaling an intent to IPO, I said I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least five major acquisitions or IPO announcements in 2022.
There’s no doubt that the overall public and private markets took a macro-economic downturn in 2022 with the S&P500 down more than 19 percent in 2022 and the nascent publicly-traded quantum computing stocks down even further. The two quantum companies that had announced their intent to IPO, indeed did so. There were rumors of other SPAC deals that were scuttled as the market demand for early-stage IPOs waned. While I said I wouldn’t have been surprised to see five or more deals, I’m not surprised that we didn’t. It’s becoming clear that, in the current environment, public markets are not as accepting of pre-profit companies without predictable revenue growth.
Despite the public market turmoil, venture capital investments continued in quantum computing start-ups in 2022, including a $60M Series B by Atom Computing, which we are using to build our next-generation commercial quantum computing systems. Governments around the world also continued to increase their investments in QIS research programs to gain economic and national security advantages, as described in this World Economic Forum report about global investments in quantum computing. What’s more, these government investments are increasingly being targeted at technology diversification now that newer quantum technologies have advanced to promising stages. I expect we will see several public announcements of more investments in these technologies around the world throughout the year.
Diversity and inclusion would be a bigger focus in Quantum Information Science
Like the broader tech industry, the QIS workforce does not represent the diverse population of our society. I predicted we would see more cooperation in attracting talent to the ecosystem and career development support for women and minorities. As the technology and businesses mature, a broader set of job roles become available expanding beyond the physics labs of our universities. With additional job roles, an expanded talent pool, and the exciting opportunity in quantum computing, I believed we could move the needle in diversity and inclusion.
We did see a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion programs across the industry and some extraordinary efforts. I applaud the energy and know that we can do more as an industry to help various affinity groups collaborate to advance a common agenda.
We commissioned a private study of gender diversity among the quantum computing hardware companies from publicly-available data gathered from LinkedIn as an indicator of where we stand as an industry. According to the data set, women make up less than a quarter of the workforce in 13 quantum computing hardware companies evaluated. Because increasing diversity has been a business priority for our company, I wasn’t surprised to see Atom Computing among the leaders with the greatest mix of female employees at 26 percent. I was, however, surprised to see that 26 percent is the best. That’s not nearly good enough - not by a factor of 2! We can collectively do much better to attract, retain, and promote diverse talent if we work together among competitors and co-travellers to cooperate on supporting diversity in the QIS industry.
Regional Quantum Centers of Excellence would enable tighter collaboration.
It takes a village to build an integrated system of complex hardware, software, and services that interoperate together to deliver a superior user experience. I predicted that collaborations would emerge among universities, government research labs, and private companies to provide environments of innovation in their regions to gain an advantage over other regions in the quantum computing race.
We are seeing quantum ecosystems emerge and/or strengthen across the country. Atom, for example, joined the University of Colorado’s Cubit Quantum Initiative, the Chicago Quantum Exchange, and the Pistoia Alliance. We also partnered on National Science Foundation proposals to expand regional workforce development programs and bolster the quantum ecosystem in the intermountain West.
The National Science Foundation and other government agencies have been instrumental in the effort to build regional quantum computing hubs that enable researchers from academia, industry, and national labs and other federal entities to connect and collaborate.
Looking ahead in 2023, I think this trend will continue and we will see many of these organizations, especially those funded by federal agencies, to include and/or expand their focus on neutral atom quantum computing technologies and partnering with companies like Atom Computing.
While my crystal ball wasn’t perfect in predicting 2022, I would say that the trends I discussed are largely in line with the results achieved as Atom Computing and the quantum computing industry made big strides in bringing scalable quantum computing technology to the hands of researchers and users who are looking to achieve unprecedented computational results. I think that progress will only accelerate as we head into 2023 and beyond.