VCs are investing hundreds of millions into quantum computing startups even as they're bracing for a 'quantum winter'


QuTech Quantum computing lab

  • Investors are putting upwards of $400 million into quantum computing startups, but many experts believe there will be a “quantum winter.”
  • Right now, experts say there is much hype around quantum computing, but it will be years before quantum computers outperform traditional computers.
  • VCs who invest in quantum computing startups have to take into account that it will take at least five to ten years before quantum computers start becoming more mainstream.

Matthew Kinsella, managing director at Maverick Ventures, says he’s “super bullish” on quantum technologies. But before quantum computers become a huge success Kinsella is bracing for a “quantum winter.”

A “winter” is the term industry insiders use to describe the phase in the technology’s evolution when the reality can’t yet live up to the hype. The disappointment causes a deep freeze in investment, research and general interest. It’s a pattern that technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligences have all experienced, and which blockchain and may be experiencing now.

Eventually, if the technology is truly innovative enough, its capabilities accelerate and it experiences a sort of second coming. 

“I really believe in quantum computing although it may be longer than some originally thought before we have a generalizable quantum computer that is better than a traditional computer at solving real world problems,” Kinsella told Business Insider.

Kinsella’s firm has invested in the startup ColdQuanta, one of many startups focused on quantum computing.

The tech is still in its infant stages

Quantum computers have special properties that can make them more powerful than traditional binary computers. That’s because of certain special properties. In regular computers, data is represented as either a 0 or 1. But in quantum computers, data can be represented as a 0, 1, or both at the same time. Since there’s an additional state, quantum computers can process exponentially more information.

Although tech giants, quantum startups, and research labs have invested time and effort into developing quantum computers, there are no quantum computers today that can do anything a classical computer can’t do.

The industry hasn’t reached this threshold yet, as quantum computing is still in its infant stages. Experts estimate that right now is similar to be in the 1950s era of classical computers.

Also read: Quantum computing could change everything, and IBM is racing with Microsoft, Intel, and Google to conquer it. Here’s what you need to know

“We think there’s going to be a concept called ‘quantum winter,'” Matthew Brisse, research vice president at Gartner, told Business Insider. “There’s so much hype, so people say, ‘let’s get involved, let’s do it.’ But then they see that the machines aren’t ready yet, and we have to wait 5-10 years. There’s a real risk of that, so we’re monitoring that as well.”

The hype in quantum computing has already begun. According to Forrester, in 2015, VCs invested $85 million into quantum computing. Two years later, that skyrocketed to $400 million.

It’s kind of hype right now. It’s new technology. As a result, there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Brisse said. “We are still years away from being commercially viable. Gartner’s core recommendation is it’s OK to have one quantum enthusiast in organizations that have big research facilities, but getting a whole quantum team together isn’t the best use of resources.”

ColdQuanta, the startup Kinsella invested in, supplies the building blocks of quantum technologies. Even if it’s five to ten years before quantum computers outperform regular ones, he’s not worried about the quantum winter, as his firm is set up to take long term views.

When we get there it will be a tectonic shift in computers,” Kinsella said.

SEE ALSO: Microsoft is hoping to turn the Pacific Northwest into ground zero for quantum computing

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