In The Quantum Insider’s third interview with Shai Phillips, President of Psirch, we discuss challenging the myth of quantum hype.
As financial markets tumble and public companies in growth spaces are hit especially hard by the rising cost of capital, it has become ever more fashionable to cry “hype” on Quantum Technology, all the while coining catchy terms like “quantum winter” to drive the point home. In its third interview with Shai Phillips, President of Psirch, The Quantum Insider explores this trend and delves into whether it has merit, is baseless, or a little of both.
Phillips began by defining the very word itself — hype — and what people mean by it…
“When people use this word, they mean one of two things: either that claims being made about quantum are greatly exaggerated; or the technology itself is fundamentally flawed. Addressing the first is problematic because exactly which claims are being referenced must be considered on a case-by-case basis. It’s easy to cherry-pick misinformation on Quantum (there’s a ton of it out there), and then criticize the entire industry as a result, but that is a well-established logical fallacy known as reductio ad absurdum, and it doesn’t pass muster.”
“The second claim, which calls ‘hype’ on a global multibillion-dollar industry, and asserts that none of it will pan out, is patently unfounded from a technical standpoint. But more than that, it is gratuitous cynicism at its worst, misguidedly defeatist at best, and flippantly irreverent to thousands of talented professionals working night and day to make Quantum a reality for the betterment of humanity.”
“Sitting on the sideline and telling a whole industry of people they are wasting their time, based on incomplete or erroneous information, is unhelpful and detrimental to progress. It may seem out of place to talk about faith here, and yet people often mistake faith for belief without evidence (i.e. blind faith), but that’s a nonsensical thing. Contrarily, faith is belief because of the evidence, not in spite of a lack of it, although prior to conclusive proof. And with Quantum, the evidence is overwhelming.”
So is there a “quantum bubble”? we asked.
“A bubble is slightly different — it refers to inflated prices of securitized assets in quantum,” Phillips remarked. “If we look at the stock market, that’s simply not the case. Some quantum stocks have lost near 90% of their value, while others have fared as poorly as the Nasdaq composite index or worse, and they were never that highly valued to begin with. As such, it’s indisputable that there is no quantum bubble. There never was. The one place where one might assert the bubble claim is in venture capital — there, the level of investment has been high (yet relatively low compared to other tech ventures such as Distributed Ledger). However, those investments are not made on a whim — highly skilled technical experts on VC teams evaluate technologies under consideration thoroughly to ensure minimum risk and maximum potential for reward. As quantum has been methodically assessed as likely to provide substantial returns, that’s no bubble either, but rather a sensible investment.”
And what about “quantum hype”, if that’s a different thing?
“Given that “hype” depends on the specific claim asserted, as previously mentioned, for the sake of argument, let’s take a broad and extreme claim we often hear: quantum technology will change the world. If this is a well-substantiated claim, then it’s not hype, but rather a plausible projection. So, the question becomes: is quantum technology likely to change the world? Based on the evidence, the answer is a resounding yes.”
“Firstly, we know that quantum technology works. It has been proven multiple times over, in medical devices, in NISQ computers. What hasn’t been proven yet is whether it can scale to sufficient sophistication for further commercial advantage. Even in that regard, the clues point to the affirmative: In academic circles, it is established knowledge that logical error rates in quantum computation decrease after a certain threshold, meaning error correction becomes easier to achieve, not harder, with a higher number of qubits past this threshold.”
Claims of Hyperbole
“So that’s the likelihood aspect. Now for the claim of hyperbole: when quantum matures, the theories of commercial advantage that are scientifically valid centre on a few areas: optimization, simulation, and metrology for example. In the classical world, everything we do in those disciplines is approximate, nothing is precise: When we measure the distance of a yard, we are approximating; when we time a minute, it may be adequately precise here on Earth, but far from adequate in calculations for interstellar travel; when we simulate a digital twin of an environmental system, we generate a broad and imprecise construct; and when we solve problems in combinatorics, we often don’t have sufficient compute to take all variables into account. Quantum will change all that. It will give us precision. That’s world-changing. It’s a powerful and extreme claim, but it’s not hyperbole. It’s progress.”
Phillips put it into historical perspective:
“I have heard quantum compared to nuclear fusion, for example — a technology that works but hasn’t yet been able to scale sufficiently to be useful. However, the differences between the two are abundant: nuclear fusion was never developed by a vast number of the largest companies in the world, never adopted by the broader industry at early stages, as we see today with quantum in banks, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automotive… it was never at the heart of an arms race between major nations, it was never a fully revenue-generating entity like quantum already is. It’s easy to stand on the brink of any early-stage technology before it succeeds — aviation, space flight, digital computers — and cry foul. Quite literally anyone can be that person. But to be one of the Wright brothers, that’s a hard person to be. That’s the person that makes life better for us all, and that’s the person who is remembered. No one remembers the nay-sayer heckling from the sideline.”
Psirch’s President also addressed the question of timing. What if it’s all true, but not for another fifty or sixty years?
“That’s certainly possible. No one is saying that Quantum will mature overnight. We didn’t go straight from ENIAC or Turing machine to the iPhone. These things take time, but along the way, we find the Amstrad, the Super Nintendo, that Nokia flip phone on which it took fifteen minutes to type out a text multiple-choice-style on the letters, the Blackberry, and so on. It will be plenty useful before we get to the iPhone of Quantum.”
Given Phillips’ buoyant stance, it’s therefore rather interesting to note that he does believe quantum hype is coming, that at some point, incontrovertible proof will break in the news, and there will be an overreaction in the stock market, in industry, and everywhere else. But when the realization descends that, proof or no, quantum is going to take a very long time, temperaments and quantum asset prices will cool dramatically once again, and then the slow and gradual climb will recommence for the long haul. While this quantum hype is still a ways away, we should all be on the lookout for it.
Phillips ended on a sombre note:
“I once saw a presentation by Elon Musk, wherein a member of the audience asked: ‘there are so many problems here on earth, why don’t you work on those instead of space?’ And the audience applauded. I had never been so saddened and disappointed by the collective intellect and lack of imagination of an entire crowd of people before. They failed to realize that space travel can solve problems for Earth. It’s the same attitude that now plagues Quantum, when people say ‘why bother, it’s just hype.’ It’s a poisonous, toxic attitude, and one that we all must shirk, oppose, and shame as unconstructive and harmful to progress.”
For more information about Psirch, visit: www.psirch.com