Sunday, May 19, 2024

Quantum Computing: The Biggest Announcement from CES

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You’d think that given the acronym “CES” stands for “Consumer” Electronics Show, it would be about products that you and I would buy for ourselves and families, but, increasingly, that isn’t the case. 

Much of what is at this show now actually targets large corporate buyers with showcases on commercial flying cars, autonomous driving technology (that only car makers would directly buy), and targeted security products like those from the new security-focused Blackberry.  It is interesting to note that this show also increasingly is a way to understand the coming technology milestones. 

For instance, at this year’s show, Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm were all on the same page regarding level 4/5 self-driving vehicles being available to borrow (autonomous cabs) in 2-3 years and available at the high end to drivers around 2025. 

But the most powerful announcement likely came from IBM, which, by looking under the covers of their announcement, appears to have put production level Quantum computing in the 2025 timeline as well. 

Let’s talk about Quantum Computing this week. 

How To Anticipate The Collapse Of The 10-Year Timeline

The technology industry has a practice when it comes to major technology advances, where they have no clue when they are useful, to forecast that the change is around ten years out.  

I first saw this back in 1965 when AT&T, the old AT&T, announced that video phones were ten years from being commonplace and installed video phone booths at Disneyland. Ironically, the video phones they anticipated, and particularly the videophone booths, never really did show up, and we still mostly make phone calls without video. (The promise was that video calls would be the new default and, it is kind of ironic that Star Trek, the forward-looking TV show of that time, showcased their future phones which were wireless, didn’t have video.)

I’ve learned over the years to not pay a ton of attention to any technology that is out ten years because I may not live long enough for it to show up. The trigger for when something moves from what is largely fantasy to something real is when you start seeing people move to apply it practically.  This trigger is important because there can be a lot of seemingly interesting research projects that can make it look like something big is coming, but until non-research oriented companies start to see the viability, there is still little likelihood the promising technology will be any more than just a promise. 

Interestingly, this lesson was drilled home to me when I worked at IBM, and I had the opportunity to see many amazing things get explored by IBM Labs but never actually make it to market. Ironically, it was this training that broke though when I saw IBM’s announcement this week on Quantum computing. Now it wasn’t this post that focused on the technology, which is fascinating, but this one that focuses on who is now on board. 

Quantum From Pipe Dream To Pipeline

Of all the companies that announced, and there were several banks, and other financial institutions, that you could argue are hedging their bets, there were three companies that caught my eye. 

They were Delta Airlines, Daimler, and Anthem. Delta is developing Quantum logistics systems that could be used to anticipate weather events and equipment failures better and assure you, and I aren’t stranded at an airport waiting for a crew or wondering why our plane doesn’t work. Daimler is working on Lithium-Sulfur batteries that could revolutionize their electric car efforts and allow them to overtake Tesla as the electric car market leader (not to mention open up electric flying cars as a more viable alternative). And Anthem which would use this technology to revolutionize healthcare, making it both vastly more effective and vastly less expensive. 

These are practical applications of technology that aren’t science experiments. Taken against IBM’s announced breakthroughs in Quantum performance, this should mean that IBM is now within a legitimate horizon to making Quantum computing useful and not just an interesting technology to discuss conceptually. 

The Quantum Change

This move of Quantum Computing from a concept to be discussed by physicists to a technology that could change our lives is arguably the most significant announcement during the CES week regarding massively changing our future. 

The kind of massive acceleration that Quantum Computing promises is believed to be far greater than the jump we originally made to mainframes, PCs, Cell Phones, or Smartphones. It has the potential to massively change how accurately we can predict future events, how fast we can develop ever more advanced disruptive products, and even explore the universe around us. I expect it will massively change the products and services that surround us and even how we view the world around us.  

I think it is fascinating that the biggest announcement we got during the CES week wasn’t a Consumer Electronics Product but could disrupt this market like nothing we have ever seen before. If you thought things were moving too fast before, buckle up, you have a handful of years to prepare yourself for a redefinition of just what the term “fast change” can really mean.

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