Sunday, May 16, 2021

Why do countries and companies invest their own money (or is it?) in Quantum Computing (Non-Rhetorical)

 There have been some recent blog posts by Scott (see here) and Lance (see here)  about the hype for SHORT TERM APPLICATIONS of Quantum Computing, which they both object to. 

I have a question that has been touched on but I want to get it more out there.

PREAMBLE TO QUESTION:  The following scenarios, while distasteful, do make sense: 

a) A researcher on their grants exaggerates or even out-right lies about the applications of their work. 

b) A journalist in their articles exaggerates or even out-right lies about the applications of the science they are covering.

c) A company exaggerates or even out-right lies about the applications of their project to a venture capitalist or other kind of investor. 


Why does a company or country invest THEIR OWN MONEY into Quantum Computing which is unlikely to have a short term profit or benefit? Presumably they hire honest scientists to tell them the limits of the applications in the short term. 


1) QC might be able to do something cool and profitable, like factoring, or simulating physics quantum experiments or something else, in the short term. Quantum Crypto is already happening, and that's a close cousin of Quantum Computing. 

2) QC might be able to do something cool and profitable (like in (1)) in the long term, and both companies and countries think they will be around for a long time. (For a list of America's 10 oldest companies see here.) 

3) The company or country is in this for the long term, not for a practical project, but because they realize that doing GOOD SCIENCE is of a general benefit (this might make more sense for a country than a company). And funding Quantum Computing is great for science. 

4) Bait and Switch: The company claims they are doing Quantum to attract very smart people to work with them, and then have those smart people do something else.

5) (this is a variant of 1) While Quantum Computing may not have any short term applications, there will be classical applications INSPIRED by it (this has already happened, see here).

6) Some of these companies make money by applying for GRANTS to do QC, so its NOT their money. In fact, they are using QC to  GET money.

7) For a country its not the leaders money, its that Taxpayer's money- though that still leaves the question of why spend Taxpayer money on this and not on something else.

8) For a company its not their money- its Venture Capitalists  and others (though for a big company like Google I would think it IS their money). 

9) The scientists advising the company or country are giving them bad (or at least self-serving) advice so that those scientists can profit- and do good science. So this is a variant of (3) but without the company or country knowing it. 

10) In some countries and companies group-think sets in, so if the leader (who perhaps is not a scientist) thinks intuitively that QC is good, the scientists who work for them, who know better, choose to not speak up, or else they would lose their jobs...or worse. 

11) For countries this could be like going to the moon: Country A wants to beat Country B to the moon for bragging rights. Scientists get to do good research even if they don't care about bragging rights. 

12) (similar to 11 but for a company) If a company does great work on QC then it is good publicity for that company. 

13) Some variant of the greater fool theory. If so, will there be a bubble? A bail-out? 


  1. > Presumably they hire honest scientists to tell them the limits of the
    > applications in the short term.

    I don't think I would assume that. Even given that the scientists are honest, I don't think it follows that they will know that what the company is trying to do is unlikely to work. The ones that do know probably don't take jobs with the company.

    This is compatible with several of the reasons that you give.

  2. Look, regarding obtaining investment of any types, in a competitive field, it's hard to obtain any if you present the
    raw risk-filled truth.
    You essentially provide a vision, now whether and how likely you
    are to implement that vision, is a different story.

    How do we call scientist that are hired to tell a perspective from cherry picked data? Mercenaries, not downright liars.

  3. Another idea: some huge companies sell a variety of things. (For example, Amazon sells books, server time, spaceships... y'know, that sort of thing. Other huge companies do similarly.) So this might slightly increase the odds that a given QC breakthrough will benefit them. (Even so, from the bits I've read, it does seem like the more "directly profitable" uses of QC are years away.)

  4. You could also say pretty much the same things for AI...

  5. There's also:

    14) If a country (or large company or college) isn't doing QC, it'll be seen as backwards and out of it. You don't get the bragging rights to being a QC player unless you play.

    15) QC is going to be useful for chemistry. Even if it's the complete bust in computation that it sure looks like it's going to be. Chemistry QC is analog computation of the most pure form: you build an analog of the chemical system you want to simulated in Qbits, and let them do their thing, and that "thing" will be analagous to the real system being considered, and voila! simulation.