I’ve recently been thinking about the inevitable(?) onset of quantum winter. Maybe the frequent summer storms have bent the course of my thoughts toward turbulent ends, or maybe I’m just like this.
Quantum winter will hollow out our vibrant field, laying waste to start-ups and diverting talent and expertise to pursuits that will actually pay the bills. In many cases, deep process knowledge will be lost as practicing experimentalists are forced to change fields and major fab facilities direct their efforts toward the next thing.
My thoughts on the implications for the field as a whole are still inchoate so I will put them down as bullet points of an outline rather than a reasoned argument.
- I expect a quantum winter to be precipitated by some unforeseen technical or theoretical hurdle in quantum computing, specifically.
- The hurdle will may be fabrication related. Maybe you just can’t make 1,000,000 Josephson junctions with good enough yield on one chip, for example.
- The other plausible hurdle I can envision has something to do with unexpected correlated noise in large systems of qubits that persistently foil error-correction attempts.
- Quantum communications companies will be wiped out wholesale and that whole field will be preserved only in academia. The commercial driver for QKD, for example, is secure communication in a world where RSA is no longer safe. If that world isn’t materializing, no one is going to buy quantum comms equipment.
- Quantum computing software startups will likewise fold.
- Quantum sensing will become the lifeline of the field. QC hardware companies of all types can probably pivot to selling sensors, some more easily than others.
- Some sort of second-order effect on the world’s dilution refrigerator manufacturers?
- Brief, local oversupply of ‘data scientists’ as QIS theorists at these startups need to find new jobs.
- Quantum sensing appears to show significant benefits even at the few qubit stage:
- Aside from the obvious uses of quantum-enhanced inertial sensors, there are many potential uses for room temperature qubits as magnetometers in living systems (NV centers and other defect qubits).
- I’ve seen quite a few presentations on the use of SQUIDs in a ‘hairnet’ geometry for sensitive neurological measurements without the need for a colossal MRI machine.
- Superconducting qubit arrays could plausibly work as impurity detectors in chip-scale semi-conductor PCM.
- Quantum emission/detection of light beyond the diffraction limit could enable semi-conductor fabrication with IR lasers for features that currently require deep UV.
- Gravitational sensors for better geological mapping/resource location.
Even without a path toward fully entangled, error corrected sensors, quantum sensing has enough interesting possibilities available that I expect there to be plenty of funding available (public and private) while the rest of the field burns.