In an article full of controversial claims about the quantum computing field, Oxford physicist Dr Nikita Gourianov argues that people are over-optimistic about the technology’s prospects and that researchers are overhyping both its scope and practical applications.
Despite the fact that billions of dollars have been invested in the field over the past few years, the quantum computing industry has not yet developed a single product that is actually capable of solving practical problems, the article published in the Financial Times states.
Gourianov’s argument is in the early 2010s, when the hype around quantum physics was at its peak, scientists realised there was money to be earned from investors. Subsequently, these people made an effort to market their concepts and exaggerate their significance.
This attracted investors, enabling researchers to cash in.
As more funding poured in, Gourianov claims, the field expanded and it became more and more appealing for researchers to oversell their findings.
“With time, salesman-type figures, typically without any understanding of quantum physics, entered the field, taking senior positions in companies and focusing solely on generating fanfare.”
According to Gourianov, this continued for a few years, leaving mainstream commentators with a highly inflated view of the potential of quantum computing. Greed and misunderstanding has led to a classic bubble, he said.
Companies that focus on quantum mechanics are earning the majority of their revenue from consulting on upcoming projects rather than from sales of practical applications, he said.
Significant investment in the field has also culminated into the public market debuts of well-known quantum computing firms including Rigetti, IonQ, and D-Wave, he says.
“These three jointly still have a market capitalisation of $3bn, but combined expected sales of about $32mn this year (and about $150mn of net losses), according to Refinitiv.”
“The reality is that none of these companies — or any other quantum computing firm, for that matter — are actually earning any real money.”
In addition, he says contemporary quantum computers are so error-prone that whatever information one attempts to process with them would almost instantaneously degenerate into noise, a problem that researchers have been working to solve for years.
Scaling up the computer, or increasing the amount of “qubits,” will only make the issue worse.
“Why is then so much money flowing in? Well, it is mainly due to the fanfare,” he says, adding that the money is coming from investors who often take senior positions in firms and focus entirely on “generating fanfare” without having any understating of quantum physics.
“Well, when exactly the bubble will pop is difficult to say, but at some point the claims will be found out and the funding will dry up,” Gourianov said. “I just hope that when the music stops and the bubble pops, the public will still listen to us physicists.”
Gourianov’s argument was rejected by journalist Tristan Greene, who pointed out in a TNW article, that the world’s largest tech companies including IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are investing heavily in this area, with “dozens upon dozens of papers from Google and IBM alone demonstrating breakthrough after breakthrough in the field.”
“No serious person involved in the decision-making is going to be confused about how math works because of crappy marketing hype or a misleading headline,” Greene said.