Quantum Computing: A Bubble Ready to Burst?

Quantum physics has the potential to redefine how computers communicate and ensure that no one could ever hack them. But many experts can’t see the finish line, let alone know when we’ll get there.

It’s been clear to physicists for years that the long-established principles of quantum mechanics can revolutionize computing and the internet. If quantum bits can be tamed, they could run algorithms in just a few seconds that would otherwise take years to complete. Stable photons could transfer information across the world instantly in a way that likely could never be hacked while in transit, since any disturbance would destroy the information.

To the rest of us, the quantum revolution might seem as if it has just transformed from a sleepy scientific theory into the sharpest of bleeding edges. It’s even possible that we’re currently experiencing something of a quantum bubble—and that it might be about to burst. In 2017, most of the quantum test loops were just dormant fiber-optic cables, and no one had been able to get quantum bits to reliably process information in the same way classical computers can. Now, there are more than a dozen functioning quantum computers around the world, a few of which any software developer can access via familiar services: say, an Amazon Web Services account.

Within the past two years, America has committed more than $1 billion in government funds to quantum information research, quantum computing startups have closed multiple venture funding rounds, and IBM announced that it is forging ahead with plans to build a computer with more than a million quantum bits, up from a maximum of around 60 today.

Despite advances coming at a breakneck pace, many of the people working in the nascent field of quantum information science acknowledge that quantum states are not yet reliable or understood well enough to replace traditional computing and the internet. Some believe they never will be—that no one will ever buy a phone with quantum bits instead of an Apple A12 Bionic, and that quantum bits and other elementary particles will forever be relegated to scientific research.

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