Economists have a term called industry clusters with the observation that many companies in the same industry tend to cluster in the same geographic area. Although everyone recognizes that Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, has a large number of high tech companies, a little known fact is the serendipitous reason it ended up there. In 1955, when William Shockley decided to form Shockley Semiconductor to pursue silicon transistors he moved from New Jersey in order to be near his ailing mom who was living in Palo Alto. He subsequently recruited Gordon Moore, Bob Noyce, and others and that spawned a number of semiconductor companies and blossomed into Silicon Valley.
Some of my friends who live in Silicon Valley still regard it as the center of the technology universe and believe that all worthwhile new technologies must emanate from there. But this may not be necessarily true for quantum computing. In the tradition of many other Norcal versus SoCal comparisons (think of the Giants versus the Dodgers), let’s look at the current activity in quantum technology to see how the two regions compare.
Having strong academic institutions nearby helps in recruiting when companies want to staff up. Many students like to stay in an area once they graduate, particular in California where the weather is nice. In the north, UC Berkeley (BQIC) has a significant quantum information group, while Stanford has a smaller group. While in the south, there are significant groups at Caltech (ICIM), USC (CQIST), and UC Santa Barbara (CSQC), with smaller groups at UC San Diego and Chapman University.
There are also more established companies and government institutions with research groups in the south versus the north. Google has significant efforts at their facilities in both Venice Beach (Los Angeles) and Santa Barbara. Microsoft also has some of a research group called Station Q that is located on the campus of UC Santa Barbara, and Lockheed Martin is partnering with USC to operate a D-Wave computer at the USC-Lockheed Marting Quantum Computation Center (QCC) on the USC campus. And in San Diego, the U.S. Navy’s SPAWAR department is using a D-Wave computer at NASA Ames to research its applicability to military computing problems. In the north, the NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) operates a D-Wave machine with Google to assess its potential to solve difficult optimization problems in aeronautics and space applications. D-Wave also has a small office in Palo Alto for sales and support.
Finally for startup companies, there appears to be one in SoCal, Quitekk outside of San Diego, and two in Norcal; Rigetti Quantum Computing in Berkeley and QC Ware in Mountain View.
So what’s the final tally? By my reckoning, I give the advantage to SoCal for academic strength and facilities of established companies and a small advantage to Norcal on startups. (Note: I am based in Orange County, California, so you might not regard me as a totally unbiased observer.) But overall, I will give the edge to southern California.
There are also very strong efforts ongoing in Canada, Australia, the UK, and continental Europe. This article focused on the efforts in California and I may provide comparisons with other geographic regions in a future article.