Many of us are worrying about contagion of the literal viral type. Unless you have been holidaying on another planet, you cannot have failed to see that every news outlet is running headline news daily about the Corona Virus and its implications for us all. But what of the financial cost, especially to the nascent Quantum Computing Industry which seems just about ready to take off. Will the virus crisis give us a “Quantum Winter” akin to the “AI Winter” where funding and research dries up and people move onto more promising areas to exploit?
Corona takes the attention away from Quantum?
There is a lot of attention focused on the virus and right now that is just about all the media is interested in. We are seeing rolling shut downs across the planet – which originated in China, then Europe and now into the US and North America.
During restricted movements, those that can work from home will likely do so. The rolling shut downs are likely to cause disruption to everyone including those doing laboratory science – its no so easy to work on the Hardware of Quantum Computing at home. Not easy to ship the refrigeration or optics equipment home to set-up in the basement, unless you are the infamous Tony Stark from the Marvel Iron Man series.
Whilst labs reduce activity and output we still expect that the theoreticians can work, albeit a little crippled from the lack of collaboration f2f, but there again many teams are cross border these days and use teleconferencing technologies to keep updated.
Reduced Interest in Quantum Computing?
The more immediate concern is rightfully towards health and wellbeing and that means that focus and therefore time horizons for Quantum projects may stall and governments and research bodies put money into finding a cure or vaccine for the Corona Virus. With such a long term horizon for the fruits of Quantum, it is only likely that there are less inflows on investment capital.
This is potentially very damaging as 2019 saw announcement from Google regarding Quantum supremacy, and many announcements from companies in recent months such as Honeywell and even google again for integrating Tensorflow with Cirq (it’s Quantum Framework).
Publicly listed Quantum Companies Tank
Looking at the wider public markets, many companies have lost tremendous value. Publicly listed companies such as Google, IBM and Honeywell involved in creating Quantum technologies have all been hit in the wider sell-off as the world takes stock of what the economic fallout maybe of the Corona Virus.
We created an article last year discussing how the average member of the public can invest in the Quantum space by investing in companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft. Since then the valuations of these companies have taken a hit. Granted, these companies are not pure-play Quantum computing companies but they provide a way to get some exposure. We are not saying that these companies are any better protected because they have Quantum aspirations (We will do the numbers on this and report later).
Cancelled Quantum Conferences
For those who don’t work in industry or academia, one of the highlights are the conferences that take place around the world. Going to these conferences is not only to disseminate information but to meet in person the very people doing the interesting work in the Quantum space. Of course there often involves some amount of imbibing some alcoholic beverages, talking shop, discussing all kinds of things and of course making friends and contacts.
Without these meetings, orchestrated or not, we all lose visibility about what is happening. We lose important contacts, investors and keeping up is hard. Articles will still be published of course, but meeting with the authors (presentations, questions, posters) to discuss findings is one of the most pleasurable aspects about being a scientist.
Already the QZ calendar of planned events is looking much bleaker then it was. Without listing all the events, we are seeing the organisers pull out of the events or to offer only limited venues, but in some cases will aim to create a virtual conference. The latter could be a very interesting innovation and sure would cut down on the air-miles and the hotel bills.
Networking in an age without Face to Face meetings makes those chance meetings much tougher. The investment community is very much an offline world – and that means investors will not be stalking the stands of Quantum exhibitions and events and that means there will have to be another way that Investors find dealflow and get those introductions.
Avoiding a Quantum Winter
In the past the AI winter happened for technical reasons rather than economic, but that doesn’t mean Quantum will be immune.
As a professional investor and trained scientist, it is hard to manage with such macro events as the virus which tend to take down everything with it – the good and the bad. So what can companies do?
- Don’t panic. There is every chance that the worst outcomes talked about in the media do not happen if the correct precautions are taken.
- Stay safe. Remember that no business is worth that of your most valuable assets – your people. Keep them safe. Allow working from home (WFM) or suspend more risky activities until more is known.
- Keep Going. So much momentum has already been built up, with great Quantum companies founded such as Strangeworks, Multiverse, Rigetti, riverlane, xanadu, to name just a few. When the dust settles there will be renewed interest in Quantum computing as activities resume. Sure the world may look a little different, but the promise of Quantum is too lucrative to ignore.
We at QZ hope that whatever Quantum activities you are involved in that you continue to do what you can to keep propelling this amazing field forward as safely as possible.
Above all Stay Safe