Not artificial intelligence, or the internet of things or even blockchain technologies.
Quantum computing is a term you might have read in science magazines or heard mentioned in sci-fi thrillers but now it might become the next battlefield for big technologies companies. Yes, that’s right! Quantum computing is becoming real and transitioning from dark use cases in research facilities to more mainstream scenarios.
At the recent Ignite conference, Microsoft unveiled its plan to start bringing quantum computing to developers. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has regularly mentioned quantum computing alongside artificial intelligence and mixed reality as the three biggest areas of future growth for the mother ship. Under the name StationQ, Microsoft has assembled an elite team of researchers to advance its quantum computing agenda. StationQ includes academic luminaries such as Fields Medal recipient Michael Friedman who has done a lot of work in the area of quantum topology known as topological qubits. A side note for the ones of you not familiar with the Fields Medal, it is the equivalent to the Nobel prize in mathematics except that is only awarded every few years and it significatively harder to get :) .
Microsoft’s entrance in the quantum computing space is certainly encouraging but is farom from being a walk in the park. Companies such as Google and IBM has been actively working in the space and have deployed their quantum computing technologies in mission critical scenarios. When thinking about the quantum computing space, there are two fundamental questions we should try to answer:
a) What are the key capabilities that should be included in first iteration of quantum computing platforms?
b)Who will be the initial market leaders in quantum computing and what areas will they focus on?
Thinking About Quantum Computing Platforms
The first generation of quantum computing platforms will have the monumental task to bring the new computing paradigm to mainstream developers. Below, I’ve listed a few of the capabilities that I believe should be included in that first iteration of quantum computing technologies in order to get traction in the developer community:
1 — Quantum as a Service: The business model for quantum computing is still up in the air but one thing is for certain: there is going to be a place for cloud computing in it. Offering quantum computing capabilities via cloud infrastructures and integrating them with existing platform as a service(PaaS) services could become the most viable channel for the adoption of this new computing models.
2 — New Programming Languages: I tend to agree with Microsoft’s thinking that quantum computing solutions will require new programming languages tailored to those runtimes.
3 — Simulators: Quantum infrastructures are expensive and will remain so for the near future. There, quantum computing platforms are likely to require simulators that emulate the capabilities of quantum computing runtimes in server environments.
4 — Application Lifecycle Tools: From application development to monitoring, quantum computing platforms will bring a new generation of tools that will automate different aspects of the lifecycle of quantum applications.
5 — Industry Solutions: Just like every other game-changing technology trend, quantum computing will create a new generation of industry specific solutions powered by the new computing paradigm.
A Prediction About the Initial Quantum Computing Market
Even though is still super early, the initial wave of quantum computing platforms has been driven by three main companies: IBM, Google and now Microsoft. I don’t have any insights about the quantum computing strategies of those companies but I am still going to venture to make a very simple prediction. Here it comes:
I believe that Microsoft, Google and IBM are going to dominate segments of the quantum computing space that are directly related with their current areas of strength. I know, genius right? ;) Before you discard it as a silly prediction, let me outline some other interesting predictions that we can derive from the original statement:
a) Microsoft is likely to dominate in developer and productivity tools for quantum computing applications.
b)Google is likely to dominate in quantum computing infrastructures.
c)IBM is likely to dominate in professional services and industry solutions that leverage quantum computing.
I also think we will soon see some Chinese companies emerge with compelling quantum computing offerings that give the big three a run for their money. Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba are my candidates.