If quantum mechanics teaches us anything, it’s that uncertainty rules reality.
So, it’s always a risk making prediction about anything, but trying to make accurate predictions in an industry that relies on the fuzzy probabilities of quantum mechanics is exceedingly difficult.
But, after spending 3-plus years covering quantum and after what seems like a lifetime reading about the wonders of quantum science and quantum computing, I feel the irresistible urge to pull back the veil on 2023 and try to guess what’s coming up.
If you are looking for a methodology, there really isn’t one. It’s not exactly a dart board. But, this is a matter of gathering information about micro research advances and financial trends, then add some more obvious macro economic trends — and then putting those on the dart board.
Here’s what I came up with.
The Runway Runs Out
Billions of dollars in investment money have primed the quantum startup pump. Not all of these startups were ready for that injection of funds. Technologically, some of these firms may be some years away from a real product. Investment vehicles, such as special purpose acquisition companies, were weakened by a choppy economy and failed to fully fund quantum startups. Investors in these SPACs called in reimbursements, a financial equivalent of pulling the rug out of entrepreneurs. On the macro side, federal banks are pulling in their COVID-era bias toward low-interest rates in hopes of cooling inflation. All of this will mean that several quantum startups could either run out of money, or may need to drastically curb spending and limit their ambitions. This threat may ease somewhat with a return of liquidity to the market and the recognition that quantum tech is integral to national security. Still, the risks are high for startups to sputter in 2023 and, in some cases, sputtering out of existence.
The waves of disruption that have spread through the economy — supply chain woes, crypto crashes and general investing malaise — will catch up to the relatively unscathed quantum in 2023. It’s easy to look at that as a singularly negative input, but it’s not. Challenging economics can force creative work-arounds, solidify innovative partnerships and generally make people work harder to attain market advantage. There will be lots of news about companies making interesting — and sometimes contrarian — moves to first, stay afloat and, second, keep sailing.
Merge, Baby Merge
One of the ways that companies will deal with the economic forces and competitive pressures will be to form new alliances. Some of these will be commercial agreements — temporary partnerships and collaborations, for example. But, expect to see headlines about companies merging and other companies being acquired. Software companies will join with hardware companies. Companies that target a specific approach or use case — let’s say post-quantum cryptography — may link with companies working on other uses to offer the customer a wider spectrum of solutions.
Quantum computers work well for certain problems, but classical computing is more practical for other computational problems. This year, more high-performance computing centers will add quantum to their offerings. This will begin to create new HPC-Plus or, maybe, HPC-Q centers. We see more HPC providers at least testing quantum waters in 2023 — and perhaps a few others will be bouncing off the high-dive, pulling into a cannonball and entering the quantum pool with a huge splash in the coming year.
Taking Down The Chandelier
Something a little different here.
The golden chandelier has been an evocative image for quantum computing, even though it is most associated with a single modality, superconducting quantum. It’s a bit misleading, though. Companies that offer other modalities — neutral atom and photonic, for sake of example — will grapple with branding their own devices as quantum computers without the chandelier.
This isn’t a frivolous as it might sound. Branding is a powerful tool and a powerful obstacle. Quantum science and quantum business must penetrate the mass public’s perception of the technology. Funders and investors are likely in that mass public and share those perceptions.
In 2023, expect some of the companies that back alternative modalities to explore ways to make their cool technology — although perhaps not as sexy as a golden chandelier — more evocative with the public.
Don’t look for this trend as a way to pick a winner among the competing quantum modalities. We’re a long way off for selecting a quantum approach — or approaches — that will dominate the space.
Deep tech companies have a unique origin story. Almost all of them started in the mind of a scientist and emerged out of a lab. Not a business school. Not a garage. Not a tech accelerator. As quantum startups grow, some founders may realize they do not have the business acumen to lead international, billion-dollar businesses. These founders may step aside to bring on executives with more business experience. Others will persevere and — hopefully — transition successfully. Others will be replaced. This CEO form of musical chairs will likely have a unforeseen benefit. Quantum companies may pull CEO candidates from other technological fields and different industries, meaning that current networks will expand to include more domain experts, who will then explore the use of quantum in their previous industries.
National Security Buoys Quantum
The story of military history is, at heart, the story of technological innovation. Whether it’s the composite bow of the Mongols, the horse-riding acumen of the Comanches, the cryptographic skill of the British in World War II, or the stealth technology of today, the ability to create and master advanced technologies offers an immediate battlefield advantage. As mentioned, we expect a lack of liquidity to hamper commercial investment in quantum, at least in the near future. However, governments will not abandon funding quantum technologies. There is a real sense that quantum technologies — such as quantum computing, quantum sensors, quantum communication and quantum cryptography — are one breakthrough away from practical use. The nation, or nations, that adopt it will have a definite advantage in national security. The countries that walk away from quantum at this vital moment in its development… will not.
This is the wild card. And we have no idea when or who will play this card. But researchers are circling two critical roadblocks to quantum advantage — qubit number and error correction are two significant challenges. Any sudden significant advance in these two — so long as they can be implemented in a scalable way — means that quantum technology will mature quickly and the quantum market will expand rapidly. If that happens in 2023, most of the other predictions will be subject to revision.
More Post-Quantum Interest
2022 was the year that mainstream businesses discovered post-quantum cryptography, or PQC. They discovered PQC simply because there’s a business case for the investment. The hack-now-decrypt later is a rallying cry for teams who want their PQC projects funded. Expect that to continue and grow in 2023 and it may lead to broader quantum adoption. See our next prediction
PQC Ed Spread
The most practical business case for quantum computers — at least right now — is preparing to stop quantum computers, at least ones trying to hack into your vital organizational data. But, also expect some leakage here. In other words, teams that companies are bringing together to learn about how to defeat would-be quantum hackers are also learning about the potential for quantum computers to accomplish good — massively improving drug discovery, mastering financial risk, helping scientists explore materials, etc. Those teams will likely spread this information to other workers in their organizations. Smart companies are going to nurture this cross-company, interdisciplinary collaborations and find places for quantum innovation within the company. This may even spawn entirely new categories of use cases for quantum as deep quantum understanding meets real world domain expertise.
Navigating Complexity Becomes an Issue
Currently, the quantum ecosystem is kind of a beautiful mess. There are multiple modalities, dozens of software languages, a range of equipment needs to build and control qubits, etc. That’s the result of pure innovation: Start-ups and research institutions are jumping into the fray and building things on the fly. For end users, though, “beautiful” is probably not the right adjective. It’s just a mess. And some sorting out will be needed. Consolidation and mergers — as discussed above — may help the simplest, domain user-friendly approaches rise to the top. And the others, well, Mr. Schumpeter will take it from here.
Those are my predictions. Always happy to hear your takes! Feel free to comment and connect on social media.
Have a happy and healthy 2023!