Achieving high numbers of qubits is one of the most important steps in developing a viable quantum computer, particularly as it allows for greater error-checking in calculations. But other important — though perhaps less well known — developments continue across both hardware and software, aimed at improving the stability and quality of quantum calculations, and the ease of human interface with quantum computers. These include the first silicon quantum logic gate in 2015 as well as emerging standards for quantum programming languages.
It is the combination of sustained qubit growth and continued development of the technology that Google is banking on, promising a commercially 'useful, error-corrected quantum computer' within the decade.
However, overcoming the technological limitations for a quantum computer — while important — is not the only requirement to enable widespread usage of quantum computing in business. Indeed, the emergence of quantum computers that are useful for businesses represents only the start of the technology’s commercial evolution, as businesses and their staff grow in their experience and expertise with applying quantum computers to solve their problems.
Our analysis of the emergence of analogous technologies — including the growth in digital computing, the internet and data science — indicates four broad stages to technological adoption in and across businesses: the academic, the specialist, the in-house and the universal (see ‘Technological evolution’). Today, digital computing has reached the universal stage, whereby computers are used by everyone in their day-to-day activities; meanwhile, data science has reached the in-house stage, whereby most large businesses have developed their own internal data science capabilities, but its direct use by the general workforce is limited, with most usage coming indirectly (e.g. via AI-enabled apps).
Quantum computing is still in the academic stage today, as indicated by searches for ‘quantum computing’ that result in traffic predominantly towards news sites, compared to searches for ‘data science’, which lead to educational sites offering courses and training (see Figure 4 and Figure 5). However, a combination of continued technological improvement and substantial increases in investment — with billions in November 2021 alone — are driving it towards the specialist stage.
Following the historical path of previous technological advances, we can expect the initial emergence of commercially viable quantum computers to lead to specialist applications for those businesses where optimisation, simulation or encryption are most critical. Following this, hardware and software standards will be developed, enabling common technology ‘stacks’ to emerge, and creating defined professional paths for quantum computing experts to contribute within businesses, or in-house. As quantum computing becomes a common element of more and more business practices, the incentive to increase its availability and ease of use for the entire workforce will grow, until it becomes a universally adopted technology.