By Lorenzo Pautasso, Anika Pflanzer, and Henning Soller
In recent years there has been a rising interest in quantum computing, fueled by several breakthroughs on the technology side and a significant increase in investments. To gain a fuller view of the current quantum-computing landscape, we conducted quantitative research as well as a comprehensive survey of more than 300 technologists across industries. Using our findings from both research components, we assessed quantum computing through four lenses—general temperature,1 industry, private equity, and use cases—to understand its evolution from hype to game changer.
Our Quantum Computing Monitor research helped us assemble a dashboard overview of where industries are in their quantum-computing maturity across five categories: bystanders, beginners, learners, professionals, and legends (Exhibit 1).
The pharma industry is at the learner level of quantum maturity, meaning it has already begun to hire quantum scientists to support possible use cases for quantum simulation in drug design, for instance. There are also massive implications for quantum technology in the financial-services industry—especially in security.
Although our survey results show that the adoption rate of quantum computing for industry in general is average (2.9 out of 5), technology, media, and telecom companies have made several breakthroughs over the past five years. Advances include achieving quantum supremacy, developing an industrial quantum computer, and setting up cloud-based quantum-computing services. These breakthroughs mark clear milestones on the path to much higher quantum-computing maturity going forward.
Quantum computing’s potential is also underpinned by the significant increase in private-equity (PE) investments over the past five years (Exhibit 2), which signals an interest in new technologies and a belief in the long-term viability of quantum computing. Although a large share of PE investment has been in bigger companies, such as D-Wave, there is a wide variety of companies of different sizes with an array of solution patterns. Swiss company ID Quantique, for example, is small but has become profitable.
Currently, a multitude of quantum-computing use cases that could significantly change how industries operate are being investigated worldwide. Quantum machine learning, quantum simulation, and quantum-inspired computation are generating a lot of interest and now have industrial applications.
Quantum simulation was first used to study the behavior of molecules directly—a capability that isn’t currently possible in the lab. An example includes trying to understand large molecules in silico instead of trying to see their specific behavior in situ. Quantum cryptography is already being implemented in industries such as banking—for example, in Swiss private banks—to protect sensitive data. The development of these use cases has accelerated with the advent of several different leading and emerging technologies. Improved cooling technologies, including cryogenics, for example, support the construction of quantum computers, devices that operate most effectively when their environment’s temperature is close to absolute zero.
It is true that, thus far, the ambitions for quantum computing exceed its realized impact. Based on our research, however, we see clear signs that larger changes will come soon, possibly fueled by individual technology developers as well as technology advancements that could help potential use cases become a reality. Quantum computing is moving from hype to reality.
Lorenzo Pautasso is a consultant in McKinsey’s Munich office, where Anika Pflanzer is a partner; Henning Soller is a partner in the Frankfurt office.
1 “Temperature” describes the current maturity of this technology in an industry on a scale from 1 (not mature) to 5 (disruptive for the industry).