Sunday, March 21, 2021

Cashing in on the Quantum Hype

A quantum computing company is going public:
IonQ has entered into a definitive merger agreement with dMY Technology Group III (NYSE: DMYI.U)
IonQ To Become The First Publicly Traded Pure-Play Quantum Computing Company
Scott Aaronson is getting concerned about the unbound money and enthusiasm compromising the legitimate science:
What’s new is that millions of dollars are now potentially available to quantum computing researchers, along with equity, stock options, and whatever else causes “ka-ching” sound effects and bulging eyes with dollar signs. And in many cases, to have a shot at such riches, all an expert needs to do is profess optimism that quantum computing will have revolutionary, world-changing applications and have them soon. ...

As some of you might’ve seen already, IonQ, the trapped-ion QC startup that originated from the University of Maryland, is poised to have the first-ever quantum computing IPO — a so-called “SPAC IPO,” which while I’m a financial ignoramus, apparently involves merging with a shell company and thereby bypassing the SEC’s normal IPO rules. Supposedly they’re seeking $650 million in new funding and a $2 billion market cap. If you want to see what IonQ is saying about QC to prospective investors, click here. Lacking any choice in the matter, I’ll probably say more about these developments in a future post.

Meanwhile, PsiQuantum, the Palo-Alto-based optical QC startup, has said that it’s soon going to leave “stealth mode.” And Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Honeywell, and other big players continue making large investments in QC—treating it, at least rhetorically, not at all like blue-sky basic research, but like a central part of their future business plans.

I think that this is obviously a bubble, as none of these efforts have any reasonable chance of making money in the foreseeable future. But when it might burst, I cannot say.

Tesla Motors and GameStop also seem like bubbles. But they at least sell products successfully.

In June 2019, quantum computing progress was said to be doubly exponential. That is, the exponent is another exponent. If that were true, then these companies would be cashing in already.

Aaronson hints that he might be selling out himself. I would say that he is a fool if he does not cash in somehow. These bubbles/opportunities do not come often.

Update: The Aaronson blog generated these comments:

[Tamas V] I teach intro-level courses on QC, and once a participant mentioned that quantum computers could be used by fortune tellers. You can create a nice story, e.g. “nobody in the universe knows what the result of measuring a |+⟩ state in the computational basis will be… so it must be God’s way of giving you advice when I run this and that quantum program, because God is beyond our universe…”. And this can be done even with today’s devices, but not with pseudo- or classical randomness! Now it’s your part to convince the believers that God has nothing to do with the results

This example made me think that there might be some early unexpected commercial applications of QC, it’s only a matter of imagination…

[Scott] The problem with the fortune-telling “application” is not what you think it is. It’s that there a quantum random-number generator (let’s say, a Geiger counter next to a chunk of uranium) is all you need, and that’s been available for more than a century. A quantum computer simply isn’t needed for this.

[Tamas V] OMG, don’t approach it from the scientific side, it’s all about marketing.

1. You cannot *sell* such an idea with Geiger counters. Quantum computers are absolutely necessary, and they also allow the fortune teller to program more complicated/obscure “predictions”.
2. One cannot easily access and program a bunch of radioactive atoms via the cloud.

That could be a metaphor for the whole field. You cannot find anything useful, or sell anything honestly. The whole trick is to present something useless as magical.

1 comment:

  1. Every business that makes a profit has some kind of concise model behind it that can be explained in less than three minutes...i.e 'we sell/produce/distribute' insurance, stocks, cars, software, etc. Whenever I hear any kind of explanation that is utterly vague and empty after the first two minutes of explanation, my bullshit detector goes off like an air raid siren and I stop listening because of two possible reasons:

    1.) It's a con, just glossy fast talk trying to frost over a scam or some illegal activity dressed up as legitimate business.

    2.) The person talking is incompetent, they can't describe and/or they don't understand their own business.

    People who know what they are talking about and have an actual marketable idea or business (that isn't a scam) get to the point quickly. Intelligent honest people do not use vague adjectives, smug insider buzzwords, or appeals to vanity, peer pressure, and emotion to make their pitch.