Despite all the inconveniences created by the Covid pandemic, a lot of progress was made in all quantum areas in 2020. We had forecasted many of them a year ago in our Quantum Computing Outlook for 2020, but there still were a few surprises. and, We did not forsee the Coronavirus at the time but we did follow up in March with a report on Coronavirus and Quantum Computing. Our hats are off to all the hard working scientists and engineers who were able to make outstanding progress while working from home.

Looking ahead to 2021, we believe that it will be a breakout year for quantum computing. The pace of development will not only continue, it will pick up as various programs started in the past few years gain traction. In this article we will make some predictions about what we expect in 2021, and we will also supplement it with observations from our partners at Fact Based Insight.

Some General Comments

Other than the technical advances, one of the major changes in 2020 is that some of the hardware developers are getting a lot more transparent about their roadmaps. A major reason for this is because the major vendors want to make potential enterprise clients comfortable enough to invest resources to get started with quantum. These enterprise organizations are not willing to invest in quantum just to get some papers published. They are looking to achieve quantum advantage so their operations can be more efficient and effective and perhaps give them an edge over their competitors.

We have collected dozens of marketing white papers written for end users written by consulting companies, hardware companies, software companies, cloud computing providers and various research labs. They all communicate similar messages with some variation of the following theme:

Quantum computing technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Although the machines available today may not be quite powerful enough to provide solutions that are intractable for a classical computer, you will see more powerful quantum machines that will be able to provide quantum advantage in the near future. However, utilizing these machines to advantage is not an easy task and you will need to spend time learning which of your problems are best suited for a quantum computer and how to program them to find successful solutions. So we recommend you start now and learning how to do it with toy problems so you will be ready when the more powerful machines are available. And if you don’t do it, your competitors invariably will and you will be at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. So work with us now and we will show you the way to become quantum ready.

And as a result, we are seeing more and more evidence of various enterprises setting up small group to explore quantum computing applications and we expect this trend to continue.

Key Technical Developments that We Expect to See in 2021

Here are some projections of technical advancements we believe will occur in the coming year.

  • Multiple hardware providers will place online a quantum computer with over 100 qubits.
  • Quantum computers that are not based on superconducting technology will continue to grow in capabilities and market share. Look for more product introductions of machines based upon photonic, spin qubit, ion traps and cold atom technologies. These can be significant because many of these technologies will not require a dilution refrigerator which will considerably lower the manufacturing cost and physical size of the computer.
  • There will be more progress made on hybrid classical/quantum computing to make them work better together. You can expect to see more quantum services implement co-location and have the classical and quantum computer sit next to each other in the same data center to reduce latency delays. There will also be more companies adopting concepts like mid-circuit measurement that will allow branches in a quantum program based upon the outcome of an individual qubit measurement.
  • Software improvements will continue to make improvements to make it easier for end users to program and utilize a quantum computer. The number of application libraries will expand and allow an end user to program at a higher and higher level.
  • In the meantime, the software layers that take the high level input from the end user and translate it down to optimized gate or pulse level instructions that the qubits can understand will get increasingly sophisticated. Improvements will continue to be made in pulse level control to optimize gate fidelity and compilers that will use intelligent algorithms to reduce gate depth.
  • There will be continued advancements in both error mitigation and error correction. The former will be used in NISQ computers to improve gate fidelities and enable circuits with more gates and more gate depth. Although we do not expect fault tolerant quantum computers with full error correction circuits to be in production in 2021, this research will pave the way for implementing these later this decade.
  • There will continue to be a move to make software platforms hardware agnostic so that they can support different quantum computers using different technologies. This will allow end users to create one high level description for their program and then try it on multiple different computers to see which one works the best.
  • We expect to see continue expansion in quantum computing cloud offerings. Both Microsoft and Google have been in a beta test mode for their services and we expect them to move to a General Availability mode sometime in 2021. Amazon currently has three hardware platforms running on their Braket service and we expect them to add more hardware partners in the coming years to continue expanding the number of different platforms their customers can choose from. We also expect to see new cloud suppliers coming online in 2021, particular from Europe and Asia.
  • One of the limiters to the number of qubits is “the wiring problem”. If each qubit requires 2 or more coaxial cable wires for control, the physical mechanics of routing hundreds or thousands of these cables from the control electronics at room temperature down to the qubits at millikelvin temperatures become untenable. Intel has introduced a cryo-CMOS chip called Horseridge that can help solve this problem and we expect more advancements here from other players in 2021.
  • A major limiter for a quantum internet is the maximum length entangled photons can travel through a fiber optic cable before the signals get too weak to be decoded. The limit with today’s technology is, at most, 100 kilometers. It is not possible to use a classical optical repeater because that would violate the No Cloning theorem. Much research is underway for a quantum repeater that could use quantum mechanical principles like entanglement swapping to perform this function, but this would require development of a quantum memory device. Look for breakthroughs in 2021 that will demonstrate advancements in quantum memories that can make quantum repeaters a reality.

Key Quantum Business and Ecosystem Developments that We Expect to See in 2021

Here are some projections of developments we expect to see on the business and ecosystem development side in the coming year.

  • We expect that one or more enterprises will announce they have achieved Quantum Advantage and are now using quantum computing in a production mode for solving real world problems.
  • The quantum industry will continue to see more partnerships between hardware and software companies and may also see a few acquisitions or mergers. In the long term we expect consolidation in the market. It will take a long time for this to happen, but you may see the first signs of this in 2021.
  • In 2020, several governments announced national plans to invest in quantum and make their countries the leader in this technology. We expect this trend to continue with additional countries publishing their national plans and funding objectives so they don’t miss out. All the other countries will be looking to see what comes out of China and the U.S. because none of them want those two to get too far ahead.
  • One of the limiters in quantum industry growth in 2021 will be the availability of a quantum workforce. This limitation has been recognized and some programs have been initiated in 2020 to help encourage more students to consider a quantum career. These programs will accelerate in 2020 and we expect additional ones to be announced in 2021. One potential area that may prove fruitful will be programs oriented towards classical computing programmers and engineers in mid-career to train them on quantum concepts so they can quickly make meaningful contributions in the quantum industry.
  • We do not expect a quantum winter to occur in 2021. We expect the world’s economy to start growing again in 2021 as the Covid crisis comes under control. If you believe that every cloud has a silver linings, we will point out that the rapid development of vaccines along with the swift adoption of work-from-home and remote videoconferencing will make everyone more optimistic about technology in general. And the continued successes we expect to see in 2021 will give investors confidence that quantum is not a dead end technology and encourage them to maintain or increase funding.

Supplemental Forecasts from Fact Based Insight

Fact Based Insight has published a series of articles that provide a recap of 2020 and additional prognostications for 2021. Rather than duplicating their efforts, we are providing a link to their articles for readers who want to view additional ideas on what’s in store for 2021. The links to these articles are shown below.

Final Comments

It continues to be critical for those in the quantum industry to manage expectations and minimize the hype. There are a lot of folks in the general public who are intrigued by quantum technology, but do not understand it very well and can easily get the wrong impression. We need to continue to stress that this is a long term effort and just because a new quantum development is announced, it doesn’t mean that things change overnight.

One should also recognize that classical computing isn’t standing still. Although Moore’s Law may be slowing down, the classical computing industry is still making considerable advances in more efficient computer architectures and algorithms. So beating out classical computing will always represent an ever increasing target. One should also remember that quantum computing will never replace classical computing. The two technologies will always work together in much the same way that people use GPU’s today as coprocessors to general purpose microprocessors. We do want to thank all of our readers for your support of the Quantum Computing Report and look forward to continue providing you with more insightful news, data and analyses in 2021. And for those of you who are actively working to develop this technology we wish you the best of success in your efforts in the coming year.

December 26, 2020