QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house

For years, I’d sometimes hear discussions about the ethics of quantum computing research. Quantum ethics!

When the debates weren’t purely semantic, over the propriety of terms like “quantum supremacy” or “ancilla qubit,” they were always about chin-strokers like “but what if cracking RSA encryption gives governments more power to surveil their citizens? or what if only a few big countries or companies get quantum computers, thereby widening the divide between haves and have-nots?” Which, OK, conceivably these will someday be issues. But, besides barely depending on any specific facts about quantum computing, these debates always struck me as oddly safe, because the moral dilemmas were so hypothetical and far removed from us in time.

I confess I may have even occasionally poked fun when asked to expound on quantum ethics. I may have commented that quantum computers probably won’t kill anyone unless a dilution refrigerator tips over onto their head. I may have asked forgiveness for feeding custom-designed oracles to BQP and QMA, without first consulting an ethics committee about the long-term effects on those complexity classes.

Now fate has punished me for my flippancy. These days, I really do feel like quantum computing research has become an ethical minefield—but not for any of the reasons mentioned previously. What’s new is that millions of dollars are now potentially available to quantum computing researchers, along with equity, stock options, and whatever else causes “ka-ching” sound effects and bulging eyes with dollar signs. And in many cases, to have a shot at such riches, all an expert needs to do is profess optimism that quantum computing will have revolutionary, world-changing applications and have them soon. Or at least, not object too strongly when others say that.

Some of today’s rhetoric will of course remind people of the D-Wave saga, which first brought this blog to prominence when it began in earnest in 2007. Quantum computers, we hear now as then, will soon leave the Earth’s fastest supercomputers in the dust. They’re going to harness superposition to try all the exponentially many possible solutions at once. They’ll crack the Traveling Salesman Problem, and will transform machine learning and AI beyond recognition. Meanwhile, simulations of quantum systems will be key to solving global warming and cancer.

Despite the parallels, though, this new gold rush doesn’t feel to me like the D-Wave one, which seems in retrospect like just a little dry run. If I had to articulate what’s new in one sentence, it’s that this time “the call is coming from inside the house.” Many of the companies making wildly overhyped claims are recognized leaders of the field. They have brilliant quantum computing theorists and experimentalists on their staff with impeccable research records. Some of those researchers are among my best friends. And even when I wince at the claims of near-term applications, in many cases (especially with quantum simulation) the claims aren’t obviously false—we won’t know for certain until we try it and see! It’s genuinely gotten harder to draw the line between defensible optimism and exaggerations verging on fraud.

Indeed, this time around virtually everyone in QC is “complicit” to a greater or lesser degree. I, too, have accepted compensation to consult on quantum computing topics, to give talks at hedge funds, and in a few cases to serve as a scientific adviser to quantum computing startups. I tell myself that, by 2021 standards, this stuff is all trivial chump change—a few thousands of dollars here or there, to expound on the same themes that I already discuss free of charge on this blog. I actually get paid to dispel hype, rather than propagate it! I tell myself that I’ve turned my back on the orders of magnitude more money available to those willing to hitch their scientific reputations to the aspirations of this or that specific QC company. (Yes, this blog, and my desire to preserve its intellectual independence and credibility, might well be costing me millions!)

But, OK, some would argue that accepting any money from QC companies or QC investors just puts you at the top of a slope with unabashed snake-oil salesmen at the bottom. With the commercialization of our field that started around 2015, there’s no bright line anymore marking the boundary between pure scientific curiosity and the pursuit of filthy lucre; it’s all just points along a continuum. I’m not sure that these people are wrong.

As some of you might’ve seen already, IonQ, the trapped-ion QC startup that originated from the University of Maryland, is poised to have the first-ever quantum computing IPO—a so-called “SPAC IPO,” which while I’m a financial ignoramus, apparently involves merging with a shell company and thereby bypassing the SEC’s normal IPO rules. Supposedly they’re seeking $650 million in new funding and a $2 billion market cap. If you want to see what IonQ is saying about QC to prospective investors, click here. Lacking any choice in the matter, I’ll probably say more about these developments in a future post.

Meanwhile, PsiQuantum, the Palo-Alto-based optical QC startup, has said that it’s soon going to leave “stealth mode.” And Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Honeywell, and other big players continue making large investments in QC—treating it, at least rhetorically, not at all like blue-sky basic research, but like a central part of their future business plans.

All of these companies have produced or funded excellent QC research. And of course, they’re all heterogeneous, composed of individuals who might vehemently disagree with each other about the near- or long-term prospects of QC. And yet all of them have, at various times, inspired reflections in me like the ones in this post.

I regret that this post has no clear conclusion. I’m still hashing things out, solicing thoughts from my readers and friends. Speaking of which: this coming Monday, March 22, at 8-10pm US Eastern time, I’ve decided to hold a discussion around these issues on Clubhouse—my “grand debut” on that app, and an opportunity to see whether I like it or not! My friend Adam Brown will moderate the discussion; other likely participants will be John Horgan, George Musser, Michael Nielsen, and Matjaž Leonardis. If you’re on Clubhouse, I hope to see you there!

Update (March 22): Read this comment by “FB” if you’d like to understand how we got to this point.

165 Responses to “QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house”

  1. David Karger Says:

    Scott, I think there’s a pretty big difference between giving advice to a hedge fund and putting your reputation in support of some startup. But if you ever do the latter, I’ve seen a nice example of “disclosure statements” on https://theconversation.com/us , where every article is accompanied by a little sidebar disclosure of the author’s potential conflicts of interest.

  2. Matjaz Leonardis Says:

    Direct link to the event: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/event/PN00QeBq

  3. Gerard Says:


    Do you think that QC research will have side-effects on the development of classical computers ?

    I mean it seems like classical computers are rapidly getting to the scale where quantum effects will become important or even dominate their behavior. Do you think that QC research may help improve our understanding of how to work with complex, inherently quantum mechanical, systems in ways which might allow Moore’s Law to be continued into the quantum world ?

    Otherwise how do you think we get from nanometer scale computers to the Planck scale or other ultimate physical limits of computation ?

  4. Boaz Barak Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I hope you post more thoughts here! (I am not a fan of the audio format, and also try to spend that time period with my family.)
    I posted my thoughts on Twitter https://twitter.com/boazbaraktcs/status/1373459194418974723?s=20 but generally I think that quantum computing may well be “over hyped” but is not “over funded”.

    I am also quite skeptical of the usage of noisy intermediate-scale quantum computing devices to solve commercially important optimization problems better than large scale classical computers any time in the near future. However, I’ve been wrong many times and it may well be worth spending funds to find this out.

    Maybe eventually all that will be needed is to build one quantum computer, which like the LHC, will be more centered on basic science than commercial applications. However, I believe we are currently at the point of time in quantum computing that roughly corresponds to the 1940s in classical computing. (See https://www.nature.com/articles/s41567-020-01126-7 .) In 1943, Watson famously said that there is a world market for maybe five computers. Maybe such predictions about quantum computers will look as ridiculous in 2100 as Watson’s prediction looks today.

  5. Daniel Says:

    It seems “clubhouse” is Mac users only AND invitation only? The first would already be a deal breaker for me.

  6. William Gasarch Says:

    If a journalist exaggerates quantum computing’s potential to get a better sounding story, I get why they do that, and they might not even know how much they are exaggerating.

    If a researcher exaggerates potential to get grants from the government, I get why they do that.

    But when a company has their own real money on the line I am surprised they fall for… their own hype? The hype of the experts they hire? Do they only hire people to tell them good news?

    In short I ask non-rhetorically two things:
    1) Who is fooling who and for what purpose?
    2) Will this comment actually appear or end up in your spam folder- as many of my comments do. I have not used weirds symbols, I hope I have not misspelled anything…

  7. Scott Says:

    Daniel #5: It’s an iPhone app. If you have one, happy to send you an invite… 🙂

  8. Scott Says:

    Gerard #3: Yes, quantum computing has already had some impact on classical CS — as, for example, in the development of “quantum-inspired classical algorithms” like Ewin Tang’s for recommendation systems, or like Quantum Monte Carlo for sampling and optimization problems. But it remains to be seen whether any of these crossovers end up being practically important, or whether the impact stays largely confined to CS theory.

  9. Jay L Gischer Says:

    You know, startup hype is mostly about getting money from investors. And those investors can afford to spend it. So if the worst thing you’ve done in your life is say things that aren’t actually false, but are wildly optimistic in order to get some money to research the thing you wanted to research anyway, I wouldn’t personally lose that much sleep over it.

    Mind you, that’s not really my style. I don’t know that I’d do it. But the presence of money does not automatically make something wrong.

    You just have to make sure, every day, that you look in the mirror and are happy with who you see.

  10. L Says:

    at #6, William:

    This question goes to the heart of the issue, and could be asked not just for QC, but also for Bitcoin, Tesla, etc. and much of the modern economy. Who’s fooling who?

    The companies are not fooled, as it is not really their money, it comes from backers desperately looking for future cash-flows, or a greater fool. Those who will trade the shares are not fooled, they know it is all a game anyway, and just look for a fun gamble. The backers are not really fooled, ultimately it is not their money either, it comes from pension funds, the Saudi Royal House, etc. The latter _are_ fooled, and lack sophistication to see past the hype, but ultimately they have no better idea anyway, and it is not their money either, as it ultimately comes from the USG pulling it out of thin air, backed by the authority of an arsenal of nukes, etc. So it seems to be a perpetual machine that hurts no-one. Yet, as with all such machines and “abundance mindsets”, someone does pay the price for all this activity. For some clues, we can look at how the natural environment and biodiversity have been doing in the past decades.

  11. Anon Says:

    Hi Scott-posting as anonymous for reasons that will be obvious soon.

    First of all let me say that I’d stay as far away from Clubhouse as I can.I consider ANY form of social media as an extra-toxic version of heroine and especially a closed one only available for iPhone.But hey, that’s only my view and I’m OK not discussing further this point here.

    The more relevant thing I wanted to write is the following.A few weeks ago I took part in an online workshop organized by a branch of the World Economic Forum on…the ethics of quantum computing!


    I’m not going to discuss the outcomes or the details but it was clear to me is that most of the participants (especially the most vocal ones) were actually self-appointed “A.I. Ethicists” who most of the times had no clue about A.I.-let’s not talk about quantum computing.I think you know this kind of environment and you have some idea of the amount of BS and nonsense I had to endure.And all the time I could only wonder “why?”

    The rational process I figured could drive this kind of madness I think might be the following:

    1) it starts from A.I.-“social science” people read sci-fi novels,figure out superevil A.I. could wipe out the planet,get confirmation of these views by news of self-driving cars accidents and biased prison algorithms penalizing minorities and say “we have to do something”.A movement starts

    2) Some of those same people also see a business opportunity:A.I. is a techno supremacy asset, THEREFORE there must be money to make with it. The problem is that they don’t have technical expertise to understand the topic, so instead of taking a PhD in CS they “invent” for themselves a role. “A.I. Ethics Officer”,”A.I. Policy Advisor”,”Algorithmic Bias Surgeon” and whatever.They infiltrate regulating bodies and carve for themselves a position of authority out of ethical grounds on a topic they do not understand. I call this a form of social parasitism but again, feel free to change my opinion

    3) Enter quantum computing.Quantum computing is a new technology that sounds like sci-fi, is hyped, and I have no clue about. THEREFORE it must be exactly the same as A.I. (and blockchain for what matters.)

    4) The important thing is that there’s money involved so again,let’s invent a role for us so that we can improve our status by not actually understanding what’s going on

    5) Since we have been so successful so doing for A.I. let’s do EXACTLY THE SAME for quantum computing-let’s say that QC can “exacerbate inequalities”, “threaten diversity”, “negatively impact climate change”. Let’s ask for money and power and recognition in exchange for the promise to address these non-existing problems and, profit!

    Needless to say,I was not impressed by the discussion.
    What worries me the most is that I know this is eventually going to have an effect on research.I think the time is coming soon where we’ll be required to put a “quantum ethics disclaimer” on our paper,where “the authors do not endorse using this research for scopes others than those explicitly allowed by the International Bill Of Quantum Human Rights”

  12. Jelmer Renema Says:

    I think it’s incorrect to say that Microsoft, IBM, et al. are treating QC as a central part of their future business plans. Some figures:

    Microsoft spends 20B USD on R&D every year, and has a total revenue of 140B. I haven’t been able to find a figure for how much they spend on QC research, but apparently the overall R&D spending on quantum is estimated at 250M / yr worldwide. Even if we say that 100M of that is Microsoft’s (which, if anything, is on the high side, considering how crowded the field is) it’d still be half a percent of their research budget.

    For IBM, they spend about 6B a year on R&D, and announced a few years ago that they’re spending 3B over 5 years (so 600M/yr) on a variety of non-traditional computing strategies, including quantum. They don’t say what fraction of that is on quantum, but given that that portfolio includes 7nm semicon technology (which is very capital intensive) plus a whole bunch of other things (graphene, nanotubes, III-IV tech), I think 10% would be a reasonable estimate. Again, that gets you to a figure of about a percent of their R&D budget, give or take (60M on 6B).

    From what I understand, these companies see quantum as part of a larger ‘end of moore’s law’ portfolio, including things like neuromorphic and photonic computing, with quantum on the more ‘unlikely to succeed’ end of that portfolio. 1% of the R&D budget means that they think it might succeed, but they’re not sure; they’re hedging their bets, essentially. The thing is just that these companies are so mindbogglingly, staggeringly huge, that even when they make a small hedging bet like this, it completely upends the field for people like us who operate on a scale of ~1M research grants.

  13. Scott Says:

    Jay Gischer #9 and L #10: In that case, do you think that IonQ having a SPAC IPO, directly marketing itself to small retail investors, materially changes the situation? That’s one of the main things I’m struggling to understand right now.

  14. Scott Says:

    Anon #11: I’ve studiously avoided wading into the recent “AI ethics” debates, partly because I’m not an AI person, but partly also because those debates seemed to be so much about personalities rather than about AI. I’ll say only that, now that I’ve finally blogged about “QC ethics,” I feel confident that the ethical question I focused on is real rather than made-up, because it’s actually been weighing on me!

  15. bagel Says:

    As the field speeds up and starts making big predictions, surely your position should become *more* precisely known! Or do we need to go have words with Heisenberg?

  16. Scott Says:

    Jelmer Renema #12: Yeah, that’s why I said “at least rhetorically” in the post. I agree that the actual expenditures so far, while huge by our standards, are still minuscule relative to the size of those companies.

  17. Boaz Barak Says:

    Jelmer #12: I think in terms of level of investment, this is certainly justified. If you make your profits based on computing, then investing a small fraction of it in this investigating the only known approach to bypass the strong church turing thesis is very well dong. Moreover, as usually the case with basic research, any dollar invested is likely going to pay off. (if not for the company then for society at large). It’s just that it might not pay off in the way that is currently predicted.

  18. Jelmer Renema Says:

    @ Scott 15: Right, I read over the ‘at least rhetorically’ there (apologies). Still, I think it’s worth making the point ‘companies spend money on things they’re not sure will work all the time’ explicit, since at least in the popular discussion, this is one of the many, many subtleties of the situation which has disappeared from the conversation.

  19. Daniel Weissman Says:

    Wow, this really does sound like the situation in human genetics/population genetics. For decades, at least since the Human Genome Project in the ’90s, our field has been fueled by hype-driven funding, where many people in the field realized at the time that we were over-promising. It’s tricky. We really have done amazing science that wouldn’t be possible without all that money, and I think it really will translate into medicine and technology. I think it’s probably been a net positive for the world so far. I would argue though that it’s skewed priorities towards stuff that’s easier to hype (especially, humans over the more practically important and scientifically interesting microbes, pests, and agricultural populations). And in the end, what are we doing as scientists if we don’t care about truth?

  20. Jean Passpartout Says:

    1. The dirty secret of topical journalism is that it is always desperate for content. The number of breathless articles in Quanta (which I mostly respect, actually) and elsewhere on tiny advances in obscure parts of math and physics proves that case. That is a demand-pull problem. Physics and math are over-covered. Actually I don’t the obverse probrem ever existed.

    2. In re: startups. I have some experience. The idea has always been to gin up and hype whatever the technology is, and buzzword the thing to make it recognizable to retail investors who indeed are the “fish” here. It is not unique to QC. I actually spent a ton of time on QC a year ago and took one of MIT’s online courses just to convince myself that it is an academic exercise for at least 20 more years, and possibly forever. And it is.

  21. Jean PAssparyout Says:

    Comment #12 from Jelmer Renema is spot on. The question is should bad actors waving their arms and shouting “Quantum Supremacy” be taking money from dentists in La Jolla (as we say in the biz). YMMV.

  22. Scott Says:

    Daniel Weissman #19: I was just telling someone the other day that the situation in QC now is what I imagine it must’ve been like in molecular biology around the 1980s, when there was obvious promise but not yet any application ready for prime time, so you had an entire industry grow up around “forward-pointers” (or more cynically, hype). Then again, I wasn’t there! 🙂

  23. Scott Says:

    Jean Passpartout #20: Quanta is really its own thing, supported by Jim Simons’ money rather than clicks, and doesn’t seem like an illustration of general trends in science journalism. Yes, it covers many nerdy math, CS, and physics stories that wouldn’t be covered otherwise, and yes, that strikes me as overwhelmingly a positive rather than negative thing for the world (even if a few of the stories make me wince).

    When you say that QC will be an “academic exercise” for 20 more years or possibly forever, what do you mean by “academic exercise”? Were the LHC and LIGO “academic exercises”? 🙂

  24. Akra Says:

    This all sounds a lot like the hype around fusion over the last few years.

  25. Paul Hoffman Says:

    (Will the Clubhouse discussion be recorded and published for those who cannot attend?)

    There are other significant side-effects of hyping QC, particularly for cryptanalysis. Because we cannot estimate how many years/decades it will take for a practical Shor-quality computer will be available to an adversary, the drive to quickly adopt post-QC algorithms becomes irrational. It is currently impossible the value of the secrecy of a particular message against the actual eventual cost for the attacker to break the public key protecting that message. Even just looking at the present, we suck at estimating the cost of changing ciphers in deployed systems. To me, it feels unethical to ignore all these unknowns when talking about QC for cryptanalysis.

  26. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Boaz Barak #4,

    Time = “right now” might well “roughly correspond to the 1940s in classical computing” — or maybe not. Right now also might roughly correspond to the 1950s in controlled nuclear fusion (as I enjoy pointing out to tweak the QC enthusiasts). Who knows?

    Full disclosure: No horse in the race. Very modest knowledge of QC. Skepticism of “big claims” honed by paying attention for about 0.6c.

  27. Gerard Says:

    Scott #23

    > Were the LHC and LIGO “academic exercises”?

    I’m not the original commenter but the answer to that question seems obvious. Neither high-energy physics nor gravitational waves have any foreseeable application in our world. The discoveries made there are therefore irrelevant to the economy. However both of those projects likely had technological side-effects which may well have made their cost worthwhile even if one considers the mere satisfaction of intellectual curiosity to have zero economic value.

  28. lin Says:

    As a mathematician, the idea that someone would accuse Quanta of covering math “breathlessly” horrifies me and I have to step in. No other outlet covers pure math *at all*, and no for-profit outlet *ever* would, I mean literally ever. Nothing like the math stories in Quanta existed before Quanta did. Quanta is a nonprofit magazine whose goal is to give the work of mathematicians (among others) *any exposure whatsoever*, and which even mathematicians regularly use to find out about exciting developments in fields outside their specialty. These math articles make no claim that their subjects will cure cancer in 10 years or whatever, only that they are inherently interesting, and are no more “breathless” than anyone is when talking about something they find intellectually engaging. It is just unbelievable to me that anyone could disapprove of mathematicians merely expressing enthusiasm about their own field in public.

  29. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Agree with Jean and Scott about Quanta Magazine. While we could point out many issues, it is far better than most attempts at popular coverage of math and science.

  30. Scott Says:

    Paul Hoffman #25: Sorry, Clubhouse discussions are not recorded (I understand that that was a big issue recently, when some journalists were like “but if the discussions aren’t recorded, then how can we shame tech bros for saying the wrong things?” and the tech bros were like “yes, that’s the point, thanks for explaining it” 🙂 )

  31. Simon Burton Says:

    Assuming we are 10+ years away from a revolutionary quantum computer, it still seems like the right time to develop tools, training, applications, etc. This is the impression I get from what CQC appears to be doing right now. The companies that invest in this area now will be ready when the show starts. There is plenty of work to do in this regard.

    As for the rest of your worries, there’s no way to stop the herding behaviour of animals, or in this case, clueless investors, media, VC’s, etc.. More than that, everyone expects the next “thing”, and anyone that can front-run the next thing will make a bundle of money. It may aswell be quantum computing’s turn. It will be eventually, and no matter what the reality is, the market will over-react. I don’t see any point in fretting over this.

  32. Scott Says:

    Gerard #27: To me, the phrase “academic exercise” connotes something not merely useless, but also “small” and “in the realm of ideas rather than concrete reality.” So let me try again: were the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower “academic exercises”? 🙂

  33. Raoul Ohio Says:

    How can the line between “real computing” and “glorified analogue computers + wishful thinking” be drawn?

    Given this uncertainty, I put on my Devil’s Advocate hat and propose a challenge to QM enthusiasts (don’t anyone take this personally and get P.O.’ed at me):

    As of noon EDST 2021 03 21, has a quantum computer actually done anything more useful than factor 15 into 3 * 5?

  34. FB Says:

    Scott, thanks for the thoughtful post which prompted me to do more self-reflection on how I’m navigating the current quantum computing landscape.

    I feel strongly that these issues are not only ethical ones. Although quantum computing is worth exploring as pure science, it has the *long term potential* for much more than that. So, I valued the current level of investment our community is getting and hope we make good use of it. But if we hype too much, we might soon pay the price in terms of a possible sharp decrease in funding for the entire field due to loss of credibility. I think by now we have crossed the line of hype that is beneficial to our field from a mere utilitarian point of view, letting aside ethical issues. Indeed, I’m worried currently the biggest risk to eventually building large quantum computers are not the great technical and scientific challenges ahead, but the potential loss of credibility our field is facing because we are being so reckless.

    It’s been two decades that it has been acceptable for academics to hype in grant proposals about development time and range of applications of quantum computers. I think our community accepts that because we believe in the end the outcome is funding for good science. The perpetrators of hype in grant proposals/papers might get a small incentive in terms of career progression and scientific status, but that seemed acceptable as long as they produced good science.

    Then a decade ago it became acceptable to hype at big tech corporations to get them to invest in quantum computers. Many saw that as acceptable, even when e.g. they were claiming quantum computers would solve global warming, because again it led to good science. Now the perpetrators could climb the corporate ladder and get fatter pay checks as a consequence.

    Five years ago, it became acceptable to hype to VCs to get funding for start-ups in quantum computing. Again, most of us made peace with it, because more money for the field means faster scientific development can be achieved. But now the perpetrators of hype could get valuations of their companies to stratospheric values, even though we thought they could not cash in most of it without eventually achieving their goals.

    Now, the eminent IonQ SPAC makes us question if it’s acceptable to misled even retail investors in order to get funding for more tech development. The perpetrators of hype now have at stake more than a billion of dollars’ worth in stock. Every further hyped PR after the IPO could lead to an increase in the stock value and immediate financial gains to them.

    It is clear to me that IonQ SPAC has gone too far in what is beneficial to our community long term and what is morally acceptable. However, I fear maybe it is just a logical consequence of all the hype we started tolerating 20 years ago. I have been a sinner myself many times. I believe it’s time we take a step back as a community and find a better way of communicating to others why our field deserves funding and why we are excited about the prospects for the future. We don’t need to hype to make a compelling case.

  35. Scott Says:

    Raoul Ohio #32: Define “useful.” Was the Wright Brothers’ airplane “useful”? If so, then I’d say that Google’s supremacy experiment was “useful” in a roughly analogous sense. If not, then no.

  36. Gerard Says:

    Scott #31

    I think that for all four of your examples satisfying desires for some kind of “tribal pride” certainly played a role. The difference is that for the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids that was probably the primary motivation while for the LHC and LIGO it was secondary. The later two projects would never have seen the light of day if it weren’t for scientist’s motivation to understand nature even beyond the limits of practically useful knowledge (and for non-scientists’s desire to occasionally hear news of such developments). So I would say they were primarily “academic exercises” in that sense.

    I think the underlying question as it applies to QC is whether QC research is likely only to enhance our knowledge in ways that are not practically useful or whether it is reasonable to expect it to one day have practical, economically relevant, applications.

    People don’t create startups to build particle colliders or gravitational wave detectors.

  37. Paul Hoffman Says:

    If the discussion can’t be recorded, maybe what is said can be summarized in detail. This could be more useful than the individual participants each posting what they thought they said in disparate media. (And, of course, maybe it would be better to have such conversations in more inclusive media.)

  38. Ben Says:


  39. bertgoz Says:

    Most of the hype comes from the exaggerated portrait of the (practically irrelevant) Google experiment. Which did not really achieve any practical application but being good at simulating itself. The stage of quantum computing as a business is posed to reach a peak hype and the collapse into a long winter.
    As oppose to other technologies (say deep learning or even bitcoin) NISQ computers have no practical application to back up the exponential hype

  40. Scott Says:

    Ben: Yes, the existing devices are simply too small and noisy for the vast majority of applications. Regarding your “perfectly reasonable commercial use case,” I might explain why it’s mistaken or unpromising, I might thank you profusely for calling my attention to it, but I promise not to ban you. 🙂 (Or were you alluding to my certified randomness thing?)

  41. Scott Says:

    bertgoz #39: On the contrary, what I liked about Google’s experiment, and about quantum supremacy experiments more generally, was precisely the way they separated out specious claims of near-term applications, in order to focus purely on the scientific question of whether and by how much you’re beating classical computers at anything. If that genuine scientific advance is then used as a launching pad for yet more hype, then it’s the hype that needs to be opposed.

    Bitcoin, I think, presents radically different issues. Once the basic concept was developed and demonstrated around 2008, there was little more to do scientifically. It was clear that it “worked,” and also clear that it wasn’t going to be really useful as a means of exchange (because of the transaction latency, and that ever-growing blockchain). The part that almost no one (maybe not even Satoshi himself) predicted was simply that Bitcoin would give rise to a tulip-bulb-like craze that would make the early investors wildly rich.

  42. Ben Says:


  43. Ted Rogers Says:

    Very nice, thoughtful post.

    An analogy I’m surprised I haven’t heard more in these discussions is with the nuclear fusion hype that started in the 1950s-60s. That was another example where there was good science being done, but where hopes and promises tended to get out of control.

  44. Joe Fitzsimons Says:

    Hi everyone –

    As some of you may know, I left academia shortly after getting tenure in order to start a QC company focused on addressing the algorithms bottleneck. There is quite a lot of criticism directed at people starting companies in the space, so I thought it might be useful for people to hear the perspective of someone who has taken this path, and maybe I can dispel some myths along the way.

    I want to explain why I decided to start a company. While I am interested in mathematics and physics, my passion has always been technology. I chose to get into quantum computing in the first place, 17 years ago, because I thought it was my best bet of getting to live through the excitement of a technological revolution and maybe contribute to it. I still feel that way. What led me to start Horizon was that I felt that it would be the best way for me to help push quantum computing towards becoming a real technology rather than an intellectual curiosity.

    At this stage of my career, I wanted to focus on tackling what I see as some of the main barriers to the ultimate success of quantum computing as a technology and startups can provide a unique kind of clarity of purpose. At this point I’ve written well over 70 papers, jumping between many dozens of problems. At Horizon this isn’t the case. We’re focused on solving one big problem, and everything we do along the way is in service of that goal. We’ve been building up a team with a far wider range of expertise than I could ever have hired in my university position, which I feel is critically important for actually producing usable technology, and, unlike at a large corporation, there is no danger of a higher-up deciding to divert resources away from the QC effort in favour of something else.

    Getting to a world where quantum computers are used to solve important problems won’t be easy. I’m not naive about this, and counter to what many may think about QC startups, I warn every one of our investors about the risks inherent in what we are doing including the risks we inherit from the hardware efforts. No-one is going into this blind. It’s far more important to build trust with long term partners than it is to build hype.

    I am very optimistic, however. More so now than at any time since I entered the field. And, frankly, I feel that I’m well placed to make that judgement. Yes, hardware is hard, but it is hard not to see the momentum building. I see it as Boaz does: we’re in the 1940s, and I want to help get us to the 80s as quickly as possible. Maybe I’m wrong. But if I’m wrong, I’ll probably bare more financial pain than anyone: I invested my own money in Horizon on the same terms as other investors, and since my first day at Horizon I’ve taken a lower salary than I was getting in academia. I suspect this runs counter to some preconceptions readers may have about QC startup founders.

    One thing that I know for sure is that we’re not going to get to this quantum future without serious focused effort, and an increasing amount of that effort will take place outside of academia.

  45. Scott Says:

    Ben #42: The problem with the fortune-telling “application” is not what you think it is. It’s that there a quantum random-number generator (let’s say, a Geiger counter next to a chunk of uranium) is all you need, and that’s been available for more than a century. A quantum computer simply isn’t needed for this.

  46. Gerard Says:

    Ben #42

    What does QC give you beyond the “ordinary” quantum mechanical randomness you can get, for example, from observing the decay of a bunch of radioactive atoms.

  47. Justin Says:

    Every dollar you take is a dollar _not_ going to a snake-oil salesperson. I would argue that it’s your moral duty to consult as extensively and expensively as possible.

  48. Scott Says:

    Joe Fitzsimons #44: Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments and backstory! To whatever extent I, too, am “complicit” in the commercialization of our field, it’s partly because I share your sense that turning QC into reality will require either VC money or major corporation money (or military money); it will never be done with standard academic grant money. I’m curious, though: do you think having an IPO (and thus, marketing directly to retail investors), as IonQ is now doing, changes the situation in any material way?

  49. Ben Says:


  50. Joe Fitzsimons Says:

    Scott #47: It definitely complicates things, but actually I think it is a good thing to have a pure-play quantum computing company on the public markets.

  51. aaa Says:

    Someone in this discussion mentioned that “any dollar invested in basic research is likely going to pay off.” I want to highlight the ethical implications of hyping bullshit:

    1) Bullshit work comes at the expense of other useful activities. Consider the opportunity costs!

    2) As others alluded in the comments, we’re at a point where bullshit is being hoisted upon Robinhooders who are investing their stimulus checks. Depending on how actively you are complicit, you might be stealing money from these people.

  52. Nick Says:

    Scott #45

    > The problem with the fortune-telling “application” is not what you think it is. It’s that there a quantum random-number generator (let’s say, a Geiger counter next to a chunk of uranium) is all you need, and that’s been available for more than a century. A quantum computer simply isn’t needed for this.

    This reminds me of an early dismissal of Dropbox [1]:

    > For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem.

    [1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9224

  53. aaa Says:

    And Scott, regarding the AI ethics folks that you swipe at in the first paragraphs. In recent months, one of them has been chased off of Twitter and two others were fired from their jobs. Seems kind of low class to keep kicking them now.

  54. Mike Says:

    Is there any way you would consider a different medium to clubhouse? Would love to listen but I do not have an iphone (or “i” anything else).

  55. Gerard Says:

    Scott #48

    > it will never be done with standard academic grant money.

    I think the definition of “standard academic grant money” must vary a lot between fields. Even a small experimental physics lab probably costs more than all the chalk and blackboards the worlds mathematicians could ever use and there are long standing models for public support of “big science” projects like the LHC or Virgo.

    I suspect it wouldn’t be that difficult to get the (US) government to write a billion dollar check for QC research. The question is what would you do with it that would significantly advance the field ?

    If the obstacles are at the level of needing fundamentally new approaches to make progress, it’s not clear that money has ever been very good at solving that kind of problem.

  56. pete Says:


    I am not a member and I would ask you for an invite but for one thing. I googled the app name and discovered that it has no facility for close captioning. To be honest, I would not really care about this if my hearing wasn’t very very bad. With something like zoom, I could try to read lips but that is far from optimal (they had a guy doing that in the movie “Casino” and I marveled at how amazing he was – wonder if it was exaggerated).
    Clubhouse sounds like a nice app for private conversations but if you want an accessible public conversation, Clubhouse might not be the way to go.

  57. Marc Says:

    So it turns out even academics like money and some are willing to be economic with the truth to get stinky rich. Welcome to the real world.

  58. Scott Says:

    aaa #53: But I didn’t swipe at them! I said nothing about AI ethics in this post (read it again), and when a commenter invited me to weigh in on that subject, I declined. I talked only about the ethics of my own field.

  59. Scott Says:

    Mike #54 and pete #56: Sorry about that!! What if, in addition to this Clubhouse conversation, I also do a blog meetup on Zoom sometime, so we can compare the two experiences?

  60. Siddharth Says:

    It might be worth articulating better what is wrong with hype. Here’s a first stab at an argument.

    P1. Researchers have a duty to be honest about the capabilities and limits of the technologies they are developing.

    P2. Many of the claims being made by researchers involved with quantum computing companies about these technologies are implausible.

    P3. Moreover, these researchers actually *know* that these claims are implausible.

    C. Therefore, these researchers are violating their duty of honesty.

    Setting this argument out explicitly makes clear a few dimensions of the problem.

    First, in evaluating whether P1 is true, we have to note that many of the people involved here have two roles: one is that of a scientific researcher, the other is that of a founder/entepreneur. The duties of communication differ with each. It is accepted by many that founders and enterpreneurs will hide the weaknesses of their enterprise to raise money, and paint implausibly optimistic pictures of the capabilities of their technologies. However, we expect scientists — especially those in academia — to say things that don’t go too much beyond the science. Thus, part of the ethical conflict is coming from these researchers occupying these dual roles.

    Second, for P2 to be true, the claims being made actually have to be implausible. As Scott says, this is hard to evaluate, and will vary from claim to claim; from company to company; and from researcher to researcher.

    Third, it is unclear to what extent these researchers actually know that these claims are implausible. That is, even if the claims being made are implausible, it might very well be that the researchers really and truly believe in them given how much sweat they put into their work. If so, they would not be so much dishonest, but really be suffering from a kind of intellectual blind-spot. But if this is the case, then this is an understandable aspect of science and engineering. Everybody is extra-committed to their own ideas. And we let the Darwinian competition between ideas decide what wins the days.

    Finally, one can note another point. Being dishonest is not quite as bad as profiting from said dishonesty. If one can show that researchers really are being dishonest, and moreover, they are making much more money than they would be if they were being honest, then that would be much worse.

  61. Daniel Says:

    I don’t use apple products as a matter of principle, but in interests of not starting a “mac vs pc” war here I won’t explain further. I will say that I wouldn’t participate in an event which was exclusive to iPhone (or android) users, and I’m surprised that a Google employee is hosting such an event.

  62. Mike Says:

    Scott #59 I’d love that!

  63. Scott Says:

    Daniel #61: I just started dipping into Clubhouse a couple weeks ago, and I might not stick with it—it certainly has many annoying aspects. One thing that surprised me, though, is that Mark Zuckerberg is a semi-regular there, as are many, many others from Silicon Valley companies whose interests don’t obviously align with Clubhouse’s or Apple’s.

  64. Mark Weitzman Says:

    Scott please send me an invitation.

  65. Scott Says:

    Mark Weitzman #64: I’m incredibly sorry, but I used up all my invites today! Try asking your Facebook friends if any of them have one?

  66. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott #35, #41:

    Any analogue computer can beat any classical computer at computing its exact state at a given moment: it is what it is.

  67. Dmitri Says:

    Scott #13: I’ve enjoyed Matt Levine’s writing on SPAC’s: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-03-11/roblox-and-coupang-chose-their-initial-investors
    (paywall limited to some number of free articles, though with free email newsletter subscription)

    His rough point is that in traditional IPO’s mutual funds and their friends get a sweet deal (because the IPO’ing company sells to them its stock underpriced for various reasons, and then they resell the stock on the public markets), while in SPAC’s it’s venture capitalists who collect this windfall.

  68. Chip Says:

    Scott, while I realize (a) we’re talking physics rather than math, and (b) for obvious reasons we have few data points, given, e.g., the history of differential cryptanalysis, it seems to me that _if physics allows scalable, reliable quantum computing_ then the rational assumption has to be that the NSA (and comparable agencies run by other state actors) are probably anywhere from 5 to 10 years ahead of what’s in the open literature (or even commercial laboratories).

    Of course, you could argue that a sufficiently motivated state actor will find a way to access any data of yours they might want to look at regardless of whether they can find fast ways to factor large composite numbers, but the premise that we can relax wrt RSA, etc. strikes me as naive.

  69. Scott Says:

    Raoul Ohio #66: No. You’re wrong. As far as we know, any physically-realistic classical analog system, to whatever extent it reliably maps inputs to outputs, can be simulated to high precision by a classical digital computer with polynomial overhead in time and memory. That’s the “Extended Church-Turing Thesis,” and that’s the statement that appears to break down if the system being simulated is quantum, in which case the simulation overhead (as far as anyone knows) becomes exponential rather than polynomial. This, of course, was Feynman’s whole point when he introduced the idea of quantum computing in 1981. I’m not going to re-explain the basics of asymptotic scaling every time the subject of quantum supremacy comes up in a comment thread.

  70. Vampyricon Says:

    But, OK, some would argue that accepting any money from QC companies or QC investors just puts you at the top of a slope with unabashed snake-oil salesmen at the bottom. With the commercialization of our field that started around 2015, there’s no bright line anymore marking the boundary between pure scientific curiosity and the pursuit of filthy lucre; it’s all just points along a continuum. I’m not sure that these people are wrong.

    I’m not sure this is sound reasoning. Morality is points along a continuum. Does that mean any action short of pure absolute goodness is bad? Or that there is no difference between gamma rays and microwaves?

  71. Scott Says:

    Chip #68: I’m not going to say with certainty that you’re wrong, but a central difficulty for your theory is that if it were true, we’d expect to see dozens of top quantum computing researchers (and we know exactly who they are) disappearing into government-agency black holes, as happened for example with the Manhattan Project. In reality, we’ve seen nothing of the kind so far.

    (Incidentally, encryption as a serious academic subject basically didn’t exist until the 1970s, so it’s no surprise that the NSA was able to stay well ahead of the open world until then. These days it’s surely gotten harder for them!)

  72. Scott Says:

    Vampyricon #70: Even if morality is a continuum, the point is that in practice we need bright-line rules to operate. Some candidates here might include: “don’t lie,” “don’t even optimistically shade the truth,” “don’t accept money from anyone with a vested interest in you saying optimistic things,” etc.

    Now, as long as the quantum computing research world clustered neatly into
    (1) “serious researchers,” who obeyed almost every reasonable ethical rule, and
    (2) “charlatans,” who broke almost every rule,
    it would be easy to figure out the right thing to do: you’d just constantly urge yourself, your students, and your colleagues to be like cluster (1) and not be like cluster (2). Hairsplitting ethical debates would be beside the point.

    But now imagine that the neat clustering breaks down, so that the entire ethical continuum becomes filled with actual people. Then, all of a sudden, you actually need to think about which ethical rules you’re going to follow and recommend to others! And whichever choice you make, there will be colleagues who you like and respect who made different choices (whether laxer or more stringent), and you’ll need to figure out how to interact with them anyway.

    I hope that makes it clearer!

  73. Quantum computing: ethics and hype – QUISA Says:

    […] Jingbo Wang 22 March 2021 Uncategorised QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house […]

  74. Rollo Burgess Says:

    In contrast to some new and important technologies (e.g. CRISPR) I don’t think that QC per se involves ethical issues arising from its ‘quantumness’.

    But the way in which the technology is developed and deployed may give rise to issues. One of the things that occurs to me is that (and correct me if I am wrong) for the foreseeable future QC is likely to deployed solely via cloud-type models with the actual device operated by one of the big tech companies, and *maybe* some other large businesses (finance, pharma) and governments operating their own.

    In other words unlike classical computing which is now almost entirely democratised, with most organisations or individuals able to access as much of it as they need largely on their own terms, quantum computing due to the specialised and high maintenance nature of the devices will be very tightly controlled by a very small number of powerful organizations.

    PS note that this is both a good and a bad thing – one of the specific issues with, e.g., CRISPR is barriers to use it are very low and so lots of dubious actors can get involved.

  75. Samuel Says:

    Thank you very much for the, perhaps sometimes vague article. I am sure, I am not alone when looking back into history and discovering similar trends in the “AI winter” summaries. Just this quote from Russel et al (2016) sounds very familiar.

    > […] In all three countries [US, Japan, UK] , however, the projects never met their
    > ambitious goals. […]
    > Overall, the AI industry boomed from a few million dollars in 1980 to billions of dollars
    > in 1988, including hundreds of companies building expert systems, vision systems, robots,
    > and software and hardware specialized for these purposes. Soon after that came a period
    > called the “AI Winter,” in which many companies fell by the wayside as they failed
    > to deliver on extravagant promises.

    We see things in AI booming now, and, to a large extend, they deliver (on smaller promises).
    While I hope there is a bright future for quantum computing, I do fear there will be some cold years in-between. I am not sure if this can still be avoided, but I hope the quantum computing research can go on, there are too many fascinating research challenges to be solved.

  76. David Glenday Says:

    To make an analogy – while I support and am excited by Nasa’s exploration of Mars I think it’s still a bit early to invest in Martian real estate.

  77. Bob Coecke Says:

    Hey Scott. Having recently jumped ship some things have seriously surprised me, to the extend that academia now starts looking like the dark side. The funding mechanisms and journal competitiveness, and especially university managements all put us in a straight jacket, from which I now feel released. I indeed now feel scientifically more free. Unfortunately I can’t make it for the chat due to time zones.

  78. Abel Says:

    While breaking RSA with a QC might be far removed in time, its ethics are not. All RSA-encrypted traffic can just be stored somewhere now, and decrypted once the tech is there. Everything of interest will be retro-actively decrypted, so who has post-quantum encryption available to them now is already a serious issue.

  79. fred Says:

    There’s also the risk that if the hype doesn’t pan out (given all the investment), the QC bubble will burst, and it will hurt further genuine progress in the field.

  80. Karen Morenz Korol Says:

    My two cents: I am a NISQ-pessimist. I think the field of quantum computing has about as much money as it knows what to do with, and further investment is on the very flat part of the diminishing returns curve – possibly even flipping downwards, because of the future cost of present over-hype.

    But as always, love to hear your take!

  81. Mark Weitzman Says:

    Thanks Scott for the effort. By the way I am reading in Wall Street Journal this morning, that the clubhouse app “is losing steam, with the number of weekly active users falling 21% during a three-week period…””

  82. fred Says:

    One of my points last year was that the very loud claim of demonstration of Quantum Supremacy was a unique hype opportunity (it happens once) … which might have been a bit premature in terms of keeping the ball rolling with a steady stream of subsequent results.

    Also, just taking Moore’s Law as an optimistic (?) reference, i.e. the number of qubits doubles every two years – we’re currently at 2^6, so it would take ~30 years to reach 1 million qubits and 50 years to reach 1 billion qubits (of course those aren’t logic qubits either, but it’s a ballpark).

  83. Gerard Says:

    Scott #71

    > if it were true, we’d expect to see dozens of top quantum computing researchers (and we know exactly who they are) disappearing into government-agency black holes, as happened for example with the Manhattan Project.

    That’s an interesting point that is relevant not just to QC but to lots of other areas where people like to claim that the government probably has access to technology far beyond what is publicly known. Countering these claims is made more difficult by the fact that there are some technological areas where the government is and/or has been far in advance.

    I’ve often thought that during the Manhattan Project it must have been more or less obvious to any remotely knowledgeable observers that something was going on related to nuclear physics, with famous people like Fermi and Bethe presumably more or less disappearing from the research community and its literature. But I’ve never seen any clear historical analysis of how this was actually viewed at the time. Are you aware of any references that examine that question in any detail, especially if they try to relate it to current claims ?

  84. Scott Says:

    Gerard #83: Keeping the Manhattan Project secret was (just barely) possible because you had no Internet and total wartime censorship of the press! But yes, people in the math and physics communities knew something big was going on. There are famous stories about it, e.g. Erdös freaking out his colleagues in a restaurant by saying “so, I hear you’re building an atomic bomb?”

    I’ve often joked that if you tried to organize a Manhattan Project today, it would take about 15 minutes for a “#WhatsGoingOnInLosAlamos” hashtag to start trending on Twitter.

  85. Scott Says:

    fred #82:

      One of my points last year was that the very loud claim of demonstration of Quantum Supremacy was a unique hype opportunity (it happens once) … which might have been a bit premature in terms of keeping the ball rolling with a steady stream of subsequent results.

    I’m trying to imagine the bosses at Google saying to the QC team, “yes, it does look from these data like you have a good claim to quantum supremacy … still, rather than let you publish, we prefer to sit on this result for another decade, in order to manage the hype cycle…” 🙂

  86. Gerard Says:

    Scott #84

    Yeah, I agree with you, but it would be nice to be able to point to an in depth analysis of what actually happened then and why it couldn’t happen now instead of just opinions supported by the occasional anecdote.

  87. Mordechai Rorvig Says:

    Speaking from my point of view as a (rather neophyte) science journalist, I may have an interesting anecdote to add. Last year, after finding out about the MIP* = RE result from this blog, I was able to get an article out on it. That article resulted in me getting a number of contacts from PR people. Basically, people saying, “Hey, there’s this quantum computing startup xxx, we’ll put you in touch with their CEO so you can write about them.” This was somewhat unusual in my limited experience, and adds to the picture of the hype coming from inside and outside of the house.

    In terms of complicity and wrongdoing, the proper distinction for me seems to be the directness or intentionality of one’s engagement. To merely consult with someone about quantum computing surely can’t be considered complicit. How else would they find out if something was overhyped? Rather, the wrong thing is to intentionally profit off of lies, or to directly con people.

    That being said, I think even when we feel squeaky clean, the continuum view is the right one. We are always on a continuum. For example, much of marketing, broadly speaking, as it appears throughout society, is flatly unethical. At the same time, we often give a lot of leeway to ethical lapses. We kind of accept, for example, that when we see a Burger King commercial, they’re going to tell us “Hey, our burger is the best in the world.” We don’t think about it as being “unethical” in any serious way – that’s just what burger commercials do. For science and technology marketing and communications, I think we generally feel, and rightly so, that the standard of ethics must be higher. They might not just be taking $5 from a hungry person’s pockets, but potentially, some poor bloke’s mortgage, or perhaps worse, warping your view of reality in a really pernicious way.

  88. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    I’m not expert in the following, but given that no one else has explicitly mentioned the following, I’m figuring I should before this comment thread goes cold.

    Namely, behold the following NEWS YOU CAN USE:

    There are specific papers and talks in the literature from those with both the expertise and the $$$ (namely, Google and Microsoft) that do the “nitty-gritty” of estimating (at least to the correct order-of-magnitude) the overhead involved in the error correction that would be required for a plausibly commercially-interesting quantum computer.

    Before I list these links, I figure I should do the short “TL;DR” [“Too long; Didn’t Read” as I’m wont to believe the cool kidz say, sometimes preemptively wherein it’d mean “Seems too long, ain’t even going to click on the link”. I’m not a cool kid… for example, nobody’s invited me to Clubhouse. Sniff… :'( … ok, that meant was ironically just in case anyone couldn’t guess. 😉 ]

    TL;DR — The quantum computers of, say, 2030ish, if we’re very, very lucky and/or very, very competent, face freakishly large (though order constant!) overheads from error correction. By freakishly large, I mean specifically that if you’re thinking of the number of elementary operations (generally expressed in units of transistor-seconds for classical computing and qubit-seconds for quantum computing), then the quantum computers need to overcome a constant factor that’s easily anywhere from a BILLION \((10^9)\) or even a TRILLION \((10^{12})\). As such, claims that any quantum algorithm known today that merely has a polynomial speedup over its classical counterpart is really dubious as a source of a quantum-commercial-win-over-classical in the next decade or two… though if you squint 4th-order-and-higher speedups have some hope in that era.

    And now the links:

    1) Relevant Google Paper: R Babbush, J McClean, C Gidney, S Boixo, and H Neven (Google) “Focus beyond quadratic speedups for error-corrected quantum advantage” https://arxiv.org/abs/2011.04149

    2) Relevant Talk: M Troyer (Microsoft), “Towards Practical Quantum Advantage” Quantum Colloquium 2021-03-16 (just last week!) at the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at UC-Berkeley; Video of talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY3htdKUGsA Abstract and links to the abstracts and videos of all the other quantum colloquia: https://simons.berkeley.edu/events/quantum-colloquium

    Again, I’m not really expert enough to confidently weigh in on the different emphases of Google and of Microsoft that come through in (1) vs (2). But I am expert enough to confidently point out there is a conflict so all y’all can chant from the stadium seats “FIGHT! FIGHT! We are not yet entertained… oops, I mean enlightened.” 😉

    Namely, Google (at least the Venice, CA “Google Quantum AI” group) appears to be still quite interested in quantum annealing / QAOA as a heuristic that may pan out to be a commercially-interesting-quantum-win-over-classical even though no one other than those whom Scott would dub “charlatans” would claim quantum annealing / QAOA offer more than a polynomial speedup (and maybe just a quadratic one) in the worst case. In contrast, Microsoft (or at least Troyer) thinks that quantum computational chemistry is where it’s at. And not just that, Troyer expresses the strong belief that that quantum annealing / QAOA isn’t promising in the next decade or so (at least against the vast, vast majority of optimization problems that are commercially interesting and are presently attacked with SAT solvers and Mixed-Integer/Continuous-Convex Programming packages etc), but also “quantum machine learning” is really a non-starter until QRAM (quantum random-access memory) is developed. And Troyer is quite pessimistic on that for at least the next decade or so.

    Enjoy. 🙂

  89. Geralt Says:

    Using a hyped voice chat to discuss the QC hype seems to be a good fit.
    Jokes aside, is it possible for anyone in the comment to give me an invitation?

  90. Alex Says:

    Hello, Mr. Aaronson,

    it would be nice to listen to any of your speeches. I don’t have an invite though.

  91. william e emba Says:

    Applications of LIGO?

    Check out Innoseis’s about page. Opening sentence: “Innoseis was founded in 2013 as a spin-off from the Gravitational Physics Group at Nikhef, the National Institute for Subatomic Physics in the Netherlands.” The company has developed precision sensors for seismic-based detection of new oil fields and to study subsistence in old oil fields (including frakking).

    Check out this seismic detection paper. LIGO is developing advanced methods for identifying seismic motions in real time. The authors of the paper speculate that further LIGO-based measurements and refinement of their calculations may be extremely practical: “The would provide a way to directly measure transfer functions between ground motion very near the earthquake source and those in areas of significant seismological hazard”.

    And I expect that at some point LIGO quantum engineers will make a fortune consulting for QC soon enough. If you want to isolate your qubits, they are the world’s leading experts. You are aware that LIGO has observed quantum effects jiggling their 40-kg mirrors?

  92. Gerard Says:

    william e emba #91

    You’re talking about side-effects that are similar to the way collider development has led to vast improvements in UHV, superconductor and RF technologies, among others. Those effects may be very important economically (which is why I earlier asked Scott what he thought about them for QC) but that’s very different from claiming direct commercial applicability of the primary science/technology goals a project is pursuing.

    I said earlier that no one creates a startup to build a particle collider or gravitational wave detector but that doesn’t mean startups can’t arise around the various constituent technologies that are developed for those projects (in fact I have some personal knowledge of at least one startup that was created around particle accelerator technology).

  93. Scott Says:

    Everyone: So, it looks like I have 2 Clubhouse invites. If anyone who has an iPhone wants one, send me an email with your iPhone number. First come, first serve.

  94. Mark Says:

    (1) As far as I can tell, quantum ethics questions of the sort usually talked about (cracking RSA, etc) are really just computer science ethics questions. After all, as classical beings, our interface to quantum computing is classical (we give a classical input and get a classical output). So a quantum computer could break RSA. Perhaps a sophisticated classical algorithm can too. People spend tons of effort trying to break RSA and other crypto using classical algorithms — the same exact ethical questions apply to the such efforts. There’s nothing novel about throwing quantum into the mix, other than it currently represents the most promising path to actually breaking RSA.

    Now, when we start doing quantum suicide experiments, then we might need to discuss true quantum ethics!

    (2) As an outsider, hyping appears endemic to start-up land. Every start-up seems to claim they’ll be the next big thing, the next multi-billion (trillion, in the case of WeWork) dollar company to revolutionize the world. Most come up way short. But it appears now this is the status quo: start-ups need to mega-hype in order to compete for funding against other mega-hyping companies. Meanwhile, investors presumably understand that everyone is hyping, and mentally apply some formula to extract the true potential from the hype. Again, nothing new about quantum.

    (3) Even if you disagree with such mega-hyping (as I think most of us would), I think it is fine to engage with such a system, as long as you yourself are honest and don’t promote the hype. If we were to disengage from anything morally-questionable, we’d all have to become hermits living alone in the woods.

  95. william e emba Says:


    The second application I mentioned was regarding the seismic information in the LIGO data. What is annoying noise to gravitational wave astronomers turns out to be interesting signal to terrestrial geologists.

  96. ReluctantSceptic Says:

    I admire that you have the humility and wisdom to see this as a real issue and are willing to explore. I am however bemused that the focus seems to be on the private sector and not in academia (the latter of which, incidentally, was given much more weight in the original comment that inspired this introspection).

    Every successful grant proposal that wildly exaggerates the potential of QC and claims its imminent arrival has come with an opportunity cost for other researchers with more accurate/verifiable grant applications (quite possibly around similar pure/applied lines). It also did not go unnoticed your kid-glove treatment of Professor Michelle Simmons wildly optimistic (in my opinion dishonest) claims in her TED talks (that one could be forgiven for thinking had originally inspired this blog’s byline) especially in comparison to your, completely justified, but much more stringent takedowns of D-Wave’s extravagant (in my opinion equally dishonest) claims.

    One powerful way to address this IMO would be radical disclosure of all grant applications. I think I know the answers to the following questions but anyway … would you be prepared to:

    a) Publically release all your grant applications.
    b) Insist any collaborators do likewise.
    c) Put on the record a much more precise timeline for the arrival of a universal QC for some specific computational task. Surely there is *some* level of (slow) progress for a QC that shifts your Bayesian needle as to either the actual feasibility of QC and/or belief in the rules of QM?

  97. Daniel Says:

    As for actual contents of your post, I’ve felt there is a serious hype problem in the mainstream QC community for years and I think it has gone well beyond the point where serious negative consequences are likely to result. Obvious problems which have already appeared: serious obstructions to the motion of people and ideas (obviously exacerbated by covid) arising from ignorant people in government thinking QI work is so important it should be regarded as sensitive and a matter of national security, excessive diversion of funding resources from long-standing and successful fields to dubious projects which are jury-rigged to sound “quantum”, corporate infiltration of universities to build for-profit research centers, etc. My expectation continues to be that sooner or later this house of cards will come crashing down when the people funding all this realize that useful quantum devices are still at least a decade away, with the more difficult applications even further in the future. Which is a real pity, since the inevitable backlash will surely take out a lot of good work as well and it will be hard for the other fields which have been looted in the meantime to recover.

  98. Scott Says:

    Daniel #97: While I agree with almost everything you say, I’ll point out that a lot of us were already worried about the potential for such a backlash, and a subsequent “quantum winter,” 15 years ago! Of course, not only did that never happen, but the diametric opposite happened (“quantum summer,” at least funding- and hype-wise, beyond our wildest dreams). Alas, this might merely mean that the crash, when it does come, will be all the more dramatic. But another possibility is that the hype will simply continue until we actually do get useful devices, thereby retroactively justifying the hype at least in some people’s minds. Alas, experience gives me zero confidence in my ability to prognosticate about such macro trends.

    The view I’m tending towards is that my job, here at Shtetl-Optimized, is neither to predict the future nor to steer the future, but merely to try and tell the truth about the core issues of the known quantum algorithms, where they might actually give practically-important speedups, what sort of hardware they’ll need, etc., and sometimes call out people who are propagating falsehoods about these issues, and let that have whatever implications it has.

  99. Mark Says:

    ReluctantSceptic #96: I don’t think publicly releasing grant applications will work, at least not in my corner of computer science, at least not with the way things are done currently. The application contains novel ideas and approaches to the problems you will work on. But importantly, you shouldn’t have solved the problems yet (lest, why should they fund you?). If you make your application public, you now publish your ideas before you’ve had a chance to actually follow through on them, making it likely someone else will take your ideas to completion before you can. They will get the bulk of the credit. This is especially problematic if you *don’t* get funded, since it will be difficult to submit the application in the next cycle.

    Also, in my experience with NSF at least, you do not need to bend the truth to get funded. In fact, I’ve been chastised by reviewers for over-selling. And in my quantum applications, I’ve never given a timeline for QC and it’s been fine. Maybe other funding sources are different, but NSF seems to understand the value of fundamental research whose real-world applications are years away.

    I do think over-selling is an issue in academia. However, it strikes me as much less of a problem than in the private sector. In academia, you are selling your work to other knowledgeable people who can smell any BS. In the private sector, you are selling to the masses who love a good story, and don’t necessarily have the tools to tell if its real or not.

  100. Scott Says:

    ReluctantSceptic #96: Indeed, I’ve always found grant applications one of the most gag-inducing parts of academia. They’re mostly a charade that no one involved—neither the writers nor the reviewers—takes all that seriously, yet that we go through anyway to keep up appearances. I tend to think we could get as good (or better) results with grant applications that were half a page long, plus a link to the applicant’s papers on the arXiv.

    Still, I’m happy and relieved that I’ve been able to do reasonably well, grant-wise, just telling the truth as best I could. I’d be happy to share my old grant proposals, provided that
    (a) I can still find them (I’m really terrible about keeping old files), and
    (b) I can get some assurance that I won’t get in trouble for sharing stuff that I wasn’t supposed to.
    I can’t put a similar demand on anyone I collaborate with.

    I’ve always been staunchly opposed to timelines, and the false confidence they create, for exploratory fields like QC (though of course it’s fine to create timelines for specific projects, particularly experimental ones).

    Meanwhile, on your broader complaint, surely it’s relevant that a typical grant to a single PI might be $600,000 (the majority of which is taken by their university as overhead, the rest of which goes to things like graduate student stipends), while IonQ is now trying to raise $650,000,000. Even supposing that similar exaggerations were involved in procuring both, the scale now is completely different.

  101. ReluctantSceptic Says:


    Ok, agreed. Well then a sunset clause all grant proposals (at the very least successful ones) should be publically available in X years (say X=5). This at least provides accountability. Try BS now … a price will be paid later. Also, my somewhat limited sense is that I’m not sure grant assessors (who should also be made public) are as immune to BS as one might think or hope (albeit less so than the public), but how can one ever know without eventual disclosure?

  102. ReluctantSceptic Says:

    Scott #100

    — tend to think we could get as good (or better) results with grant applications that were half a page long, plus a link to the applicant’s papers on the arXiv.

    Agreed. But I still think the grant’s eventual disclosure is needed to prevent races to the hyped bottom.

    —Still, I’m happy and relieved that I’ve been able to do reasonably well, grant-wise, just telling the truth as best I could. I’d be happy to share my old grant proposals, provided …

    Actually, I think your commitment to truth in this blog is strong evidence that your grant proposals will be ones that are probably the least likely to be hyped. Still, I think it be worthwhile to have this confirmed if nothing else to establish a lower hype-bound – alas the conditions stipulated means that this won’t happen.

    -I’ve always been staunchly opposed to timelines, and the false confidence they create

    This is really disappointing and in my mind brings into question your genuine belief in a QC future. The beauty of a timeline is that it promotes a brutal honesty that IMO is needed in the field since there are powerful incentives to get it right. Be too early and you increase the prospects of grant success (assuming systems where BS pays off) but risk a mid-career qanon-like flame-out; Be too conservative and you lose the grant and a role in a possible revolution. Let me prod again. Surely you have *some* sense of *some* milestones. I’d suggest few people would be better placed to provide an educated estimate. Let me try an upper bound, surely if on the verge of retirement we still can’t factor, say 37 quantumly on a (universal?) QC that would shake your belief in the reality of QC and/or QM?

    -I can’t put a similar demand on anyone I collaborate with.
    Fair enough, I don’t like purity tests but the point I was trying to get at is IMO systemic-disclosure is important as it points to a researcher’s commitment to truth and even integrity.

    -Meanwhile, on your broader complaint, surely it’s relevant that a typical grant to a single PI might be $600,000 …while IonQ is now trying to raise $650,000,000

    I don’t agree. We all know (grant) success begets (grant) success for large numbers of individuals over many years so one needs to take a longitudinal view while the public/private partnerships in this space are proliferating at pace. As a case study, the experimental research group run by the TED speaker referred to, has received well in excess of 1 Billion in public money over a couple of decades now and likely now a further 1-2 Billion from private investment in the last few years (much of it based on credibility conferred by academia). Combining this with other QC groups we are talking about a significant chunk of a nation state’s research/development budget. If that has all been built on wild exaggerations (publically and/or hidden in grants) then that is a problem. Of course, there has been much sterling science completed along along the way but who is to say more could have been done in ultimately more promising fields. It is especially a problem IMO if a QC application does not in fact eventuate in the next 5 years (as repeatedly promised) after all this expenditure- opportunity cost and all that.

  103. Paul Beame Says:

    This discussion has focused on the commercial application of quantum computing suggested in the optimistic “pure play quantum” IPO-that-isn’t-an-IPO. (Yes, the prospectus is laced with an amazing number of disclaimers!)

    Maybe the following isn’t part of their model, but isn’t there another side of this that Maryland is nicely close to the DC Beltway? US federal agencies are somewhat obsessed with what China has achieved in quantum cryptography/communication and the Chinese commitment to quantum computing. With national security and prestige on the line, what are the chances just that the company will end up being another Beltway mouth at the federal trough and that this will justify the investment even if the true commercial possibilities don’t?

    On a separate note: For the research arms of large corporations, which have produced much of the best practical work in the field, it seems that other than (the lack of) commercial application, the discussion of motivations has focused on:
    – prestige
    – hedging bets

    What about these others?

    – stock price – a company that is seen to ignore a potential for technology that the investor community sees as a risk will be hurt. One could easily argue that for investors in these large companies, the large dollars – but relative peanuts – spent on quantum computing has been more than compensated for by the stock price improvement achieved by doing it! (This seems to be similar to what caused Microsoft to re-brand most of its research arm under an AI label a few years ago to show that it knew where things were heading.)

    – spin-offs – building a quantum computer requires mastering technologies at low temperatures. Presumably, this in-house low temperature expertise would be useful in other computing contexts.

  104. Boaz Barak Says:

    RelucantSkeptic: I disagree with your description of the grant process:

    1) Most grants (at least basic science ones with which I am most familiar) do not come with explicit milestones and timeline promises, and they shouldn’t – if we knew exactly how things will pan out, it wouldn’t be basic science. It doesn’t mean you can say anything – grants are peer reviewed and outrageous promises without any realistic road toward fulfilling are very likely to turn your reviewer off

    2) Note that the abstracts for funded projects are often public (eg see NSF website)

    3) Typically there is a fixed pool of money per topic. Quantum computing grants are competing with other quantum computing grants.

    There is a very real and justifiable reason to invest in quantum computing: it is qualitatively different from any other computing device in history and recent experimental progress has given evidence that it can be realized in practice. Whether or not we will be able to solve useful problems in noisy devices of less than 1000 qubits (or maybe a better question, how useful will these problems be) is still unknown, but it’s worth investing to find out.

  105. wolfgang Says:

    Looking at the chart of DMYI … looks like a failed SPAC to me and the securities lawyers are already all over it. The ‘retail investors’ might be smarter than you think.

  106. Joe Fitzsimons Says:

    Mordechai #87:

    Was it us you were pointed towards? It would still be a little odd to consider a startup relevant, but I’m cited in the abstract of the MIP*=RE paper so it probably wouldn’t have been that weird for someone to point you towards me for a comment on the result.

  107. fred Says:

    Scott #85

    “I’m trying to imagine the bosses at Google saying to the QC team,…”

    At the time I received messages from at least 3 friends with masters or phds in STEM, showing they were utterly confused about what had been achieved. They all thought an actual QC had been built, and I had to break it to them that, although the thing was “programmable” in the general sense of the word, it was not a Turing machine at all.
    It isn’t the first time or the last time Google shoot themselves in the foot by not understanding at all what they have in their hand (the latest example being the total fiasco that is Stadia).
    But, as you say, noone of that matters, the goal is to make a few billionaires even richer, and turn a few professors into millionaires… that’s how it is and always will be.
    In the end, what actually works and is actually worth everyone’s time will always find a way to rise to the top.

  108. Peter Shenkin Says:

    I think FB might have misused the term “misled” when reverting to the imminent (probably not “eminent”) SPAC. Obviously it is a very long shot in terms of technical success, but retail as well as institutional investors might well be riding on being able to take advantage of hype to make a good profit in the short term or an even greater long-term profit by shorting the stock. In any case, the offering is probably well couched with warnings, and if a retail investor wants to make a bet on a long shot, that’s their call. Hopefully, they are smart enough not to bet money they cannot afford to lose.

    SA, as far as SPACs are concerned, they do avoid some SEC regulations, but they also result in a greater percentage of the initial offering to go to the company itself and less to the banks and the initial large investors, compared to an IPO. I am a financial amateur myself, but you might enjoy reading a few of Matt Levine’s recent columns on Bloomberg. I don’t always fully understand the details, but he is always at the least very amusing, and what I don’t understand is in part compensated by the giggles I get reading him.

  109. Dylan Langone Says:

    An interesting point of last night’s conversation that I had not really considered before was what Michael Nielsen had to say about the differences between academia and startups: grant agencies have a much higher chance-of-success threshold than venture capitalists. This means something along the lines of a startup with only a 1% to 5% chance of growing into a huge leader in a burgeoning industry will still get millions in funding from VCs but will get no grant funding because of the way VCs operate: if 5% of the time your investment gives a 30-fold return and other 95% goes nowhere, you’re actually making money. I feel that some startups might have more than a 5% chance of a huge 20-year return but others have a much lower chance; it all depends on the quality of what they’re doing.

    I agree with most people here that you shouldn’t hype quantum with unrealistic near term promises. When those predictions don’t pan out it damages the whole field at all levels of funding, but I’m curious to see what people here think about what would happen to typical academic funding if and when the VC funding dries up. Will typical academic funding decrease at levels comparable to VC funding decreases or will it decrease much less so? Could it even increase as more pressure gets put on goverments to take up the slack left behind by the VCs in the face of rising geopolitical tensions? I don’t know how to start thinking about these questions.

    Overall, I feel optimistic about the future of the field. I think the worse case scenario is that quantum goes into something like the AI-winter of the 90s and 00s, but that’s ok because the pendulum will eventually swing back around when we get fault tolerance in 30-40 years or whenever. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen eventually. AI came back bigger than ever and so will quantum.

  110. Scott Says:

    fred #107: Frankly, I’m unsure what you mean in saying Google’s Sycamore chip is “not a Turing machine.” By the same standard, it seems, none of the computers we use are Turing machines, since they all have finite memory! Of course there’s a quantitative gap—your laptop can access billions of bits, whereas Sycamore has only 53 qubits—and that gap can only occasionally be bridged by 253 being about 9 quadrillion. And of course the coherence times are measured in tens of microseconds. But I actually thought Google did a pretty good job of not presenting this benchmark demonstration as anything other than what it was.

  111. Tu Says:


    I will leave aside for a moment the ethical questions associated with marketing a speculative technology to retail investors rather than professionals, the question of how founders are to balance optimism and commitment with a more faithful (fact-based) appraisal of their prospects for success (along with venture capitalist’s bizarrely high level of tolerance for dishonesty in tech founders), and also the dubious value proposition of VCs, SPACs, IPOs in their current forms. I leave them aside not because I think they are not relevant, but just because they would be present whether or not quantum computing research were “entangled” with them.

    Here are a few scenarios I can imagine an expert in the field of quantum computing who prides himself on his commitment to communicating his field’s important results and their intellectual relevance to others may be confronted with.

    1) A QC conference hosts a debate on the prospects of QC revolutionizing industries in the short/medium term. You take the side that it is highly unlikely to do so and defend it.

    2) A hedge fund asks you to come talk to them about your thoughts on QC’s prospects for revolutionizing various industries. You give them your honest perspective (a rather negative one in the short and medium term) and they pay you for your time.

    3) A conference has a panel on the future of QC in industry. You are on the panel, along with with some other (more optimistic) people in the industry. Questions are fielded, the people more enthusiastic about QC’s prospects for business success spend the majority of the time talking.

    4) A VC-funded quantum computing startup asks you for technical advice and asks if they can list you as a scientific adviser. They pay you a lot, and ask you if you are willing to help represent the company in their next round of fundraising, which involves painting an optimistic picture of the business case for investing in this company’s quantum computing technology today.

    It is easy to see how, without “doing anything wrong”, one could start to feel queasy if they think the industrial use cases of QC remain far off.

    You said you are asking for advice, so I will give it a go. The advice that you should stay in your office and never talk to someone in “industry” and never attend a conference that professes enthusiasm for the business cases of QC in order to preserve your ethical purity is not appealing or realistic. The route of trying to cash in on uninformed enthusiasm among retail investors is also as unappealing as it is unethical. I propose a third route: serve as a QC consultant to venture capitalist. Charge them a management fee of 2% of every dollar you convince them not to invest in a QC start up. It should be easy to convince them that you are making them much more money than this measly fee in return for keeping them out of the branches of the wavefunction where they incinerate billions of dollars on companies that are half a century premature.

    Am I right in interpreting your position that building a scale-able quantum computer (and surmounting the enormous engineering challenges that entails) is just not something a scrappy startup is going to do? Unlike others, this is not a problem that is going to be solved by a hoodie-wearing 20 year old staying up late at night in his garage– it is more like putting someone on the moon. Is that right?

  112. fred Says:

    Scott #110
    Sorry, I meant Turing complete, universal.

  113. fred Says:

    Dylan #109

    “the pendulum will eventually swing back around when we get fault tolerance in 30-40 years or whenever. “

    VCs typically expect a ROI on a smaller time scale.

    With semi-conductor transistors (Moore’s law), there’s been practical applications (and therefore money to be made) continuously since inception, with a handful of them in analog electronics, then in digital chips, up to the high densities we see today.


    I’m not clear at all whether the same can be expected with quantum “chips”.
    But I guess that Google, MSFT, IBM can all afford to invest for decades, with no practical return.

  114. ReluctantSkeptic Says:

    Boaz Barak #104

    1) No one is denying the value of pure research including that of QC or QI -the question is one of degree and emphasis. C’mon, this post was quite specific – you are not seriously trying to claim that thousands of grant proposals haven’t dangled a quantum computing timeline as justification for why they should be funded! The problem is that funding bodies do have priorities and do allocate according to discipline-bets, a spread of pure/applied research, a spread of hard/soft weighting all of which is undermined by exaggerated claims -not to mention the unfairness of then penalizing more honest applicants.
    2) It never ceases to amaze me the resistance academics seem to have to such a very basic level of accountability/transparency regarding their grant proposals. The usual gamut is rolled out 1) the dog ate my homework 2) commercial-in-confidence 3) giving away research leads 4) we publish abstracts. It’s clear IMO that all proposals should be fully public 5 years after submission and I think this would go a long way to checking the hype problem in academia.
    3) I don’t believe this is the case. It’s fairly clear that funding priorities move over time depending on developments, national and personal preferences. At any rate, even if true one still wants an equitable, transparent process *within* disciplines.

    As might be expected from my previous answers, I don’t share your optimism regarding the inevitability and impact of QC. For me there are multiple reasons. I’ll mention a few meta-ones: Scott claims that setting timelines just leads to a “false confidence” whereas I think it is actually the other way around. His and others studied refusal to present any public timeline to me betrays a lack of understanding and confidence on QC’s ultimate feasibility. Contrast it with how quickly he denounces any purported NP vs P “proof”, even if only knowing skeletal details of its approach -to me that indicates deeper understanding and confidence. The group previously mentioned claimed in 2009 a >10 qubit machine by 2012, in 2016 a >10 qubit machine by 2019 and now spruiks a 10 qubit machine by 2023. Naturally their qubits are somehow better than the qubits of Google/IBM/Start-up X. The lack of a common standard about progress is just ripe for to quote the dearly departed leader “truthful hyperbole”. People keep saying – take the longer view; look how classical computing progressed from the 1940’s onwards despite some glaring differences. I think given the level of activity over the last two decades using far more resources/people/technologies actually places QC around 1980 on this curve and still, there appears to be no sign of even a much weaker Moore’s law emerging in QC. All the claims about recent quantum supremacy still rest on unproven CS conjectures, while its extent is embarrassingly walked back days later before classical algorithms and implementations soon emerge to get almost comparable performance. And yet we are told none of this matters, you *have* just witnessed scientific history. And then the field itself can’t even agree on whether QS was actually observed! How on earth can Scott and Gill so fundamentally disagree on the interpretation of such a hard, single dataset? And yet still, there seems to be no cause for pause for the evangelists -the Bayesian needle is never moved – it’s always, you just don’t understand exponentials – just give it a few more qubits … (our superior qubits of course)

  115. M Says:

    The clubhouse – I am not a club joiner and nor do I endorse good scientific discourse, as this blog exemplifies, within such environments. Make a Zoom call, publish the link and let folks join. You can even record it as a vlog – just tell people it will be recorded.

    If an alien being were to view the events of Earth with respect to IPO SPACS and all the ponzi schemes that venture capitalists play with other people’s money, I imagine the alien would find humanity entirely alienable.

    As for the work on quantum computing, I have always enjoyed these blogs and your work.

    And then, is it really that meaningful to endow abstractions with “ethics” and give implicit legitimacy to science voyeurs? Is 1+1 ethical? The question is its own answer. But more importantly, I look forward to any future musings here 🙂

  116. Scott Says:

    Tu #111:

      Am I right in interpreting your position that building a scale-able quantum computer (and surmounting the enormous engineering challenges that entails) is just not something a scrappy startup is going to do?

    Define “scrappy.” 🙂 I do think it will probably take billions of dollars at least, on the scale of the LHC or LIGO.

    I love your idea of asking for 2% of the value of every QC investment that I convince investors not to make. Had I negotiated that deal for all my previous consulting, I might have a pretty decent chunk of change by now… 😀

  117. Tu Says:

    Scott #116

    Well, now I can just take your answer and divide it by ten to prove myself right, so I will go with on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.:)

  118. Dylan Langone Says:

    fred #113

    “VCs typically expect a ROI on a smaller time scale.”

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear there. I meant that if VC funding dries up in next 5-10 years, then when we finally reach fault-tolerance with hundreds of logical qubits, a *new* surge of funding will materialize. I agree that big corporations can afford to spend on QC R&D for many years to come. It seems like *right now* they’re spending much less than 10% of their R&D budgets on QC, so it looks like there’s plenty of room there for funding to hold steady if it doesn’t grow.

  119. Scott Says:

    fred #112: But Sycamore is Turing-universal in basically the same sense that your laptop is! As I said, it just has many orders of magnitude fewer qubits than your laptop has bits.

  120. fred Says:


    you mentioned D-Wave:

    “Some of today’s rhetoric will of course remind people of the D-Wave saga, which first brought this blog to prominence when it began in earnest in 2007”

    I checked their wiki:

    “In 2019, D-Wave announced a 5000 qubit system available mid-2020, using their new Pegasus chip with 15 connections per qubit”

    How do you explain they’re still around?
    If their tech is BS, wouldn’t NASA, Lockheed Martin, Harvard,… have realized it by now?
    Or are all the people involved with them in these institutions playing along?
    Or eventually good results were achieved?

  121. Scott Says:

    ReluctantSkeptic #114: I’ve always told people, completely straightforwardly, “if your desire to fund my research hinges on your belief in some specific timeframe for practical applications of QC, then don’t fund my research!” And I’ve tried to work on things that had intrinsic intellectual interest, and for which the possibility of near-term applications was at best an added bonus. (I did make a partial exception for the detailed analysis of quantum supremacy experiments, as it became clear that those were really going to happen.)

    More broadly, though, I think you’re failing to grapple with just how astounding the experimental progress has been. Google’s supremacy experiment, limited though it was, would’ve been a crazy pipe dream when I entered the field around 1999, when it was a big, publication-worthy achievement just to apply a single 2-qubit gate with 50% fidelity or whatever.

    You’re also not taking a long enough view of the timescales. The way I think about it is that we’re still in the era between Babbage theorizing in the 1830s, or maybe even Leibniz in the 1600s, and the invention of the transistor in 1947. Learning to control nature at the quantum level is something that a-priori could easily take centuries. Maybe my initial expectations were too low, but I’m pretty pleasantly surprised by how far the experiments have gotten in a mere 25 years.

  122. Scott Says:

    fred #120: To make a long story short, I’d say that D-Wave’s market has always been people who want to play around with a quantum annealing machine, and who aren’t particularly concerned with what advantage (if any) you get that way compared to using a classical computer — and after 15 years they continue to serve that market! 🙂 But from what I gather, they haven’t been doing especially well lately.

  123. Gerard Says:

    Scott #116

    > Define “scrappy.” ???? I do think it will probably take billions of dollars at least, on the scale of the LHC or LIGO.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a startup, “scrappy” or otherwise, that had $1 billion+ to invest upfront in technology development. Maybe Theranos came closest, I’m not sure what their funding levels were.

  124. Gerard Says:

    ReluctantSkeptic #114

    > All the claims about recent quantum supremacy still rest on unproven CS conjectures

    If we have to wait until someone proves that \( \#P \not \subset FP \) to start working on quantum computers we could be waiting a very long time.

    Remember that all of modern cryptography and the trillion dollar online industries it supports are also based on unproven CS conjectures.

  125. Gerard Says:

    fred #120

    Some of the organizations you mention have also been working on anti-gravity for 70 years or so with nothing to show for it (that we know of 😀).

  126. Gerard Says:

    Scott #121

    > You’re also not taking a long enough view of the timescales. The way I think about it is that we’re still in the era between Babbage theorizing in the 1830s, or maybe even Leibniz in the 1600s, and the invention of the transistor in 1947. Learning to control nature at the quantum level is something that a-priori could easily take centuries. Maybe my initial expectations were too low, but I’m pretty pleasantly surprised by how far the experiments have gotten in a mere 25 years.

    Between this and some of your other comments here it sounds like you’re taking a pretty clear stand that VC’s shouldn’t come anywhere near QC at the present time.

  127. fred Says:

    Gerard #123

    “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a startup, “scrappy” or otherwise, that had $1 billion+ to invest upfront in technology development. “

    Maybe these guys, with nearly 3b$ of investment and still no actual product after 10 years, besides a very expensive dev kit?


  128. Boaz Barak Says:

    RS #114

    Your comment is a bit long but let me make some high level points:

    – The overall funding level for quantum computing is not determined by promises and hype on individual grant applications but overall excitement of funding bodies with the field. That has to do with the genuine progress that was made as well as with arguably over optimistic general narrative and levels of expectations (aka “hype”). I don’t claim hype is not real, I just think it doesn’t come from the individual grant proposals. You do have a favorable grant environment these days if you work in quantum computing, but, given the peer review process, it’s not to your advantage to make wild promises.

    – I am not sure what you want from Scott regarding timelines. The progress until Scott retires has little to do with the broader question of whether quantum computing is possible. Babbage died before anyone built a classical computer. The progress in quantum computer depends on two curves: the curve of the cost to build one based on scientific and engineering engineering advances and the curve of available funding based on perceived or real needs. It’s not Scott’s job to predict either one

  129. ReluctantSceptic Says:

    Gerard #124
    True, but QC still seems on another level and I was also specifically referring to Google’s quantum supremacy experiment (“just” a stepping stone to QC). The CS evidence for secure cryptography seems to be much stronger and established than that for the supremacy claims (which seem to rest on the more niche difficulty of sampling random quantum circuits)

  130. Gerard Says:

    Boaz Barak #128

    > The progress in quantum computer depends on two curves: the curve of the cost to build one based on scientific and engineering engineering advances

    Does anyone know what that curve currently looks like ? If they do then an experiment could be performed where funding is allocated as predicted by the curve to say add n more qubits to an existing quantum circuit. I think that if such an experiment were performed and it were successful in reaching the predicted goal it would give people some confidence that we have some idea of what is going on with QC progress.

    My impression (mainly from reading this blog) is that right now a lot of people are skeptical that we have any such understanding whatsoever.

  131. ReluctantSceptic Says:

    Boaz Barak #128

    1. What you say may be true but ensuring that all the proposals for publicly-funded research become publicly available in 5 years would (with no apparent downside) contain the considerable upside of seeing the effects/presence/control of any said hype.

    2. An implicit assumption in your argument is that QC is inevitable whereas many (not obviously insane) people don’t think this is justified. I don’t know about Scott in particular (his research seems to be more pure [but having also cultivated many connections with private industry and proselytising about potential applications – all to his great credit]). In general though, yes, if you are part of or partnering a research group or claiming practical relevance in grant proposals as part of competing for the innovation dollar either from taxpayers or investors (or both) then, just as with a prospectus, I think it is absolutely part of your job to provide timelines. Yes, the timeliness might be rougher but my point is that informed predictions/opinions about whether or not in 5/10/20/30 years, QC is ubiquitous/non-existent in field A,B,C for tasks X,Y,Z is important, interesting, valuable information for a host of reasons. If this becomes more the expectation/norm then I think this will also start stimulating more uniformity/consistency in defining progress which can but help push the field forward.

    -I’m bowing out now due to time limitations but interesting discussion.

  132. Boaz Barak Says:

    RS 131: I don’t feel as strongly as you about it but I agree with you that releasing publicly funded project proposals after a certain time period seems like a good idea.

    While I view long term predictions for quantum computing with suspicion, I think shorter terms predictions are easier to make. This is not my expertise but I’d guess quantum experimentalists can make fairly good estimates of when we’ll move from 53 qubits to 100 qubits and from 99% fidelity* to 99.5% . Factor of 10 improvements are harder to predict but I guess again people can come up with rough estimates for the costs involved. Scott will have a better sense than me.

    Timelines for further off achievements are harder to estimate, and another unknown is what these NISQ devices will be useful for. For me the question is whether quantum computing (in current cycle) will achieve economic “escape velocity” whereby progress and application in each stage are enough to find progress to the next stage

  133. Scott Says:

    RS #131: I’m in favor of your proposal to make grant proposals public after a few years. The only downside I can see, is if it caused proposers to be less honest, e.g. because they didn’t want to give stuff away to their competitors or expose their half-baked ideas to public ridicule. But I agree with you that these downsides seem minor compared to the benefits.

  134. Anonymous Says:

    “””what if only a few big countries or companies get quantum computers, thereby widening the divide between haves and have-nots?” Which, OK, conceivably these will someday be issues. But, besides barely depending on any specific facts about quantum computing, these debates always struck me as oddly safe, because the moral dilemmas were so hypothetical and far removed from us in time””

    The issue highlighted here – that quantum computing community might be over inflating its potential, is actually not different from the issue raised above – that quantum computing is poised to increase the inequality between the global haves and have nots.

    Yes, maybe the latter is not specific to quantum computing, but there are steps QC scientists can take to mitigate the effects of unequal access to quantum computing around the globe. Hence, doing so falls inside scientists’ personal responsibility. However, it can be easily argued that scientists are NOT currently doing that.

    Secondly, whether or not this is issue is far in time from us depends on when we will have quantum advantage. It cannot simultaneously true that companies will soon have profitable applications from quantum computing, while governments who are also the main stakeholders in quantum computers will not.

    Taking the stance that quantum computing must be accessible to everyone around the globe, is uncomfortable for the same reason as to why scientists might knowingly or unknowingly inflate the promise of quantum computing and when we might reach it- doing so hurts funding. 🙂

  135. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    During all of these years, I have tried to stay conservative and honest, and sometimes outright grouchy, not so mainly to take a moral stand, but more out of professional training and habit. I mainly believe in proving and interpreting theorems. I haven’t even said or thought much about mathematically non-rigorous ideas that could be very valuable. I also never took any consulting fees. I had preliminary discussions once, but nothing came to fruition, quite possibly because I was pouring cold water.

    Now that it is coming to this, honestly I feel relieved. It was easy not to get involved with D-Wave, but now things are more complicated. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t gotten involved with any other industry funding or consulting. Besides that it’s not my style and I might not have done a good job anyway, it also puts me in an ethical safe space. I’m sure I’m not the only researcher who has done this by default, and I’m also not an anti-capitalist purist who thinks that this is the only ethical route. Still, right now this outcome for me seems just as well.

    Various areas of computer science have formulated ethics statements, and not just the standard stuff about inclusion and mutual respect. Professional societies like APS, ACM, and AMS sometimes do this too. I think that it would be good for QC to do this too, to address this specific point about hype and its interaction with both public funding and private investment. There may be more to address than hype too. I’m not happy either with artificial stories of “QC gaps” and superpower rivalries, even if some politicians want to talk that way to justify special government funding.

    It may have to be a grassroots manifesto if there is no QC society, but that’s fine, that can work too. A carefully written manifesto with a good set of signatures would make me feel better, and might help protect the whole field from cynicism.

  136. Jelmer Renema Says:

    @ Greg 135: I strongly support this idea. As easy as it is to dismiss these kind of statements as grandstanding, I’ve actually found them surprisingly useful in dealing with various ethical issues (the Dutch PhD system has one).

  137. asdf Says:

    Hype over quantum computation? Hypercomputation (machines that can solve Turing-undecidable problems) says “hold my beer”.


    The above article is actually sane, but I have to wonder what led up to it.

  138. Job Says:

    I just found out that IonQ’s (11 qubits) and Rigetti’s (31 qubits) QCs are available on AWS and Azure.

    These are large enough to run Simon’s algorithm for randomly generated blackbox circuits of increasing depth, in order to get a sense for overall fidelity (and quantumness).

    Unfortunately, IonQ’s device doesn’t support Toffoli gates (according to Amazon’s docs). I’m not sure if that’s because of the underlying gateset or because these would be too large.

    It’s less than ideal, but it will still be interesting to run tests using non-universal blackboxes. At least their hardware is available (they get points for that).

    The widest circuit for Simon’s problem that fits on 11 qubits will have a 6-bit secret.
    For depth it will have a minimum of 12 Hadamard gates and an average of 5+X CNOTs (where x is the number of 1 bits in the secret value).

    On average that’s about 12H and 8 CNOTs, plus however many NOT and CNOT gates we want to pad it with.

    If each CNOT is composed of no more than 5 elementary gates (i’m not familiar with IonQ’s gateset) then test circuits will range from 60 gates on the low end and up to whatever we want (in increments of no more than 5).

    It will be interesting to see how IonQ’s quantum volume translates to circuit depth. Any guesses for overall fidelity? Will there be useful interference? Is it an actual QC behind the cloud API? I guess we’ll see.

  139. Mitchell Porter Says:

    So far I don’t see anyone in this thread saying, “how will this flood of private money into quantum computing, affect the AI singularity / the creation of artificial consciousness / the future of mind on Earth / etc?”

    (Anon#11 comes closest… by worrying that a new class of quantum AI ethicists will add to the paperwork involved in grant applications.)

    Perhaps quantum computing is just a technicality in the broader rise of computing, perhaps it is something more, but while everyone worries about the short-term effects of hype and lucre, I would like to remind you all of where, logically, the computer revolution ultimately leads us, which is, beyond humanity.

    By my count, the cautionary notes at the start of IonQ’s investor presentation list 37 “risks”, but I don’t see anything like, “IonQ’s revolutionary computing devices may become the ‘brains’ of artificial intelligences with goals that oppose the goals of IonQ’s clients, investors, and other members of the human race.” 🙂

  140. fred Says:

    Scott #119

    “Of course there’s a quantitative gap—your laptop can access billions of bits, whereas Sycamore has only 53 qubits”

    I see what you mean, but imo it’s all about the quantitative gap.
    After all, Quantum Supremacy is a quantitative claim.
    And it also seems to me that we should only compare logical bits with actual logical qubits.

    “But Sycamore is Turing-universal in basically the same sense that your laptop is! As I said, it just has many orders of magnitude fewer qubits than your laptop has bits.”

    Wouldn’t it be as if every single transistor in your laptop would work, but with the caveat that they can only keep their charge for a few clock cycles only, and therefore every logical bit, gate, register,etc.. only has a valid state for a fraction of that as well?

  141. fred Says:

    I stand corrected – I can see how Sycamore is Turing complete because it can be compared to a handful of programmable gates that can be wired to compute something – it’s limited in size by coherence limit (that’s a big limitation, but it’s still Turing complete).

    But wasn’t the more recent claim of QS, based on using a network of photons, not forming a Turing complete system?

    I think I was conflating those two different experiments – it’s not exactly easy for a non-expert to keep track of all the caveats associated with each new claim.

  142. Gerard Says:

    Mitchell Porter #139

    > So far I don’t see anyone in this thread saying, “how will this flood of private money into quantum computing, affect the AI singularity / the creation of artificial consciousness / the future of mind on Earth / etc?”

    I’m not aware of any concrete evidence that QC would be expected to affect any of those things.

    Those kinds of claims seem like exactly the sort of unsupported hype that Scott’s post is concerned about.

  143. Scott P. Says:

    I would like to remind you all of where, logically, the computer revolution ultimately leads us, which is, beyond humanity.

    It ‘logically’ leads us there in the same way that the silting up of the Persian Gulf ‘ultimately’ leads to the filling in of all the Earth’s oceans.

  144. asdf Says:

    Lin #28 “No other outlet covers pure math *at all*, and no for-profit outlet *ever* would, I mean literally ever”: popular and semi-popular science mags have done that since like forever. My own interest in math developed (at least in part) from reading Scientific American (SA) in high school. The RSA cryptosystem was first revealed to the public in a Martin Gardner column in SA. It’s fair to say Quanta does it *more* than SA did, but SA was a print magazine whose processes were much more elaborate. As a math-specific example, the Mathematical Intelligencer started in 1971 and though aimed at professional mathematicians, has plenty of nontechnical articles about current math results. I like Quanta but would not describe its approach as unique.

  145. Job Says:

    I submitted a task for IonQ’s 11-qubit QC, containing a basic circuit for Simon’s problem.

    The blackbox had a secret value of 7 and was padded with two CNOTs (so 12H and 9CNOT total).
    I’m not sure what it compiled to on IonQ’s side (it wasn’t included in the result from what i can see).

    The task was set to run the circuit 256 times. BTW, it’s $0.01 per shot and the QC is only available for a time, every few days (so you can expect to wait a day or so).

    The expectation for a QC is that 100% of the values measured in the input register (6 bits) would be orthogonal to “000111”.

    What i saw instead was: 85%. Pretty good for a first impression?

    In terms of “quantumness”, i’ll need to see similar results with Toffoli gates (it’s not quantum with just CNOTs).

    Luckily, it seems that IonQ’s QC does support Toffoli gates, according to the set of gates listed by querying the device. I think Amazon’s Jupyter docs just contain outdated/cached values.

    I guess I’ll throw in some extra CCNOT padding, and try again. I expect that will bring the 85% down to the 50%-60% range.

    In any case, i think it’s a fairly encouraging performance from a QC.
    It’s interesting because, despite all the hype (or maybe because of it) my expectations were way down.

    Like, i was fully expecting to see 50%.

  146. Job Says:

    BTW, this is the circuit I submitted (via Amazon’s braket service), in case others want to check for errors on my part:

    .cnot(control=4, target=3) # padding gate
    .cnot(control=5, target=4) # padding gate
    .cnot(control=0, target=6)
    .cnot(control=2, target=7)
    .cnot(control=3, target=8)
    .cnot(control=4, target=9)
    .cnot(control=5, target=10)
    .cnot(control=1, target=6)
    .cnot(control=1, target=7)

    You can pad the circuit with NOT, CNOT, CCNOT gates after the first set of H without changing the secret value as long as they operate only on qubits 3, 4 and 5 (but hey, double check first).

  147. asdf Says:

    Scott, I understand that Sean Carroll is working on a theory where gravitation is an emergent phenomenon from quantum entanglement. So it seems to me that if you really want to cash in on quantum grift, then mere computation doesn’t even scratch the surface. Not that many people really care about factoring RSA numbers, after all. The real money has to be in peddling quantum antigravity devices. Everyone wants those! 😉

  148. Gerard Says:

    I just ran across a news article that seems relevant to the discussion here:

    IBM’s first ‘retail’ quantum computer in the US headed to Cleveland Clinic Quantum computing will be used to explore genomics, as well as for chemical and drug discovery.

    So how exactly would a 53 qbit NISQ quantum computer contribute to genomics or drug discovery ?

    For that matter how would a 1000 qbit QC (which the article says IBM will install in “the next few years”) contribute ?

    Perhaps a QC of that scale could be used to run quantum simulations on molecules, but what is known about the efficacy of quantum computers in simulating general quantum systems and what kind of qbit count, gate count and circuit depth would realistically be needed for such simulations ?

  149. The asphyctic quantum industry - The Analyst Syndicate Says:

    […] Aaronson, one of the leading independent voices of quantum technology, recently blogged “QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house”, a post referring not to IonQ […]

  150. Rollo Burgess Says:

    Here is a compelling real world use case of quantum computing recently tested by Google


    Ps note date

  151. fred Says:

    Gerard #140

    I have the same questions.

    A simple drug like aspirin has 21 atoms in it, the synthesis process and reaction mechanism involve many degrees of freedoms.


    But for more cutting edge drugs, like antibodies used against cancers, those molecules have hundreds of atoms in them.


    So it’s not clear how many non-logical qubits would be needed to do something that can’t be done on a classical computer.

  152. Mike Says:

    Rollo@150: 😉

  153. Gerard Says:

    So let me ask a hypothetical question.

    Suppose there were a stealth mode startup that claimed to be able to perform quantum computations at a larger scale/higher quality than any currently available NISQ QC. This company’s product has the following properties:

    1) They provide a website where quantum circuits can be submitted and the simulation results returned.

    2) They won’t reveal any information about their technology.

    3) They aren’t able to factor currently used RSA keys and/or they won’t knowingly allow their technology to be used for breaking encryption. (However, as one possible means of verifying the correctness of the results, it is possible to run Schor’s algorithm on the site for coprimes much too small to impact current encryption).

    4) They make no claims or predictions about the expected future development of their technology. It’s basically what you see is what you get.

    The question is does there currently exist a market for such a product and at what scale in terms of number of qbits, circuit depth or other parameters would it become commercially viable and for what applications ?

  154. Ben Says:


  155. Paul Says:

    You might go with what Rolf advised, and on every paper, grant proposal and prospectus:

    “This scheme, like all other schemes for quantum computation, relies on speculative technology, does not in its current form take into account all possible sources of noise, unreliability and manufacturing error, and probably will not work.”

    And maybe you add that at least a decade from anything that might compromise RSA 2048.

    By the way, to borrow from Martin’s Josiah (“Jed”), make sure you see the whole board. I read your pieces on what you believe, etc. For how entirely lame the discussion to date, a rather large portion of male and female relations historically can be explained by one simple thing, which is that a woman knows that she is the mother of her child with certainty, which isn’t the case for men re fatherhood. Owing to that, I don’t want any woman who isn’t sterile to ever speak to me about “privilege”. Sorry, ladies, but you’re born with the most fundamental privilege of all. Remembering of course, that we only have female and male in the first instance as that allows DNA to make more DNA so as to fill every available niche. All the rest may well be, to borrow from Dustin’s Jack Crabb aka Little Big Man, maybe we’re all fools and none of it matters.

  156. Job Says:

    So, the IonQ QC doesn’t explicitly support Toffoli gates via the circuit API, but you can compose one using the supported H, CNOT, T, TI and S gates (a total of 16 gates per Toffoli).

    I submitted a similar circuit containing one additional Toffoli, to compare the fidelity.

    I’m also looking at the 31-qubit Rigetti QC. It’s larger, but has lower qubit connectivity, which will impact compiled circuit depth (as a result of having to move qubit states around).

    That’s one reason why i like using Simon’s problem as a test. It operates on a classical circuit (plus H), so we can compare the performance of completely different QCs.

    I mean, it’s possible that one test instance will be skewed towards one implementation (e.g. it might fit Rigetti’s connectivity graph), but not across many randomized runs.

    I feel like there should be a project/site to track and rank QCs based on simple metrics like this.
    I’m wondering which QC would come out on top.

  157. Job Says:

    Gerard #153,

    They could offer a cloud service for Grover’s search.
    Then you would use that for general applications like mining bitcoin, or finding software bugs.

    On the other hand, i’m not sure that’s really viable either, even assuming it can beat the large amount of parallelization available to classical machines (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1711.04235.pdf argues that it’s not actually cost effective).

    For bitcoin mining we’d be using Grover’s search on SHA256.
    For reference, I found this SHA256 circuit:
    It consists of 22,272 AND gates, 91,780 XOR gates and 2,194 INV gates (not sure how optimal it is).

    Not only is that a huge circuit by QC standards, it’s only a fraction of the actual quantum circuit since Grover’s algorithm would run SHA256 up to sqrt(2^n) times.
    Where n would be number of nonce bits, I think? (which varies based on the desired difficulty)

    In any case, we’d be running an exponentially large quantum circuit, which is a tough place to be.

    And the same goes for other applications of Grover’s algorithm.

    Of course, there’s always simulation of quantum systems as a QC application.
    But how large are those circuits, and how do they scale with the system?
    I guess you have to be a physicist to know?

  158. Noon Says:

    I believe that your main concern seems to be the fact that this is a stock that the general public can buy; I’m not entirely sure what the concern with that is though. I don’t see why the public has any reason to be more or less knowledgeable about QC than any other stock they can buy presently. If anything it just kick-starts the ecosystem around such investments that _will_ help people decide; such as advisory firms needing to think about it a bit, etc, etc, etc. And of course, one can certainly argue that there are more useful things to do with time and money; but I hardly think theorists are in a good spot to be throwing stones here 😀

    In many ways I don’t blame people for engaging in the market game; but of course I do wish that things could be a bit different in general. If we’re pushing for more general change; i.e. we’re annoyed by the entire system, not just the quantum subset, then I’m on board! One book I like that has some nice thoughts; but not the entire answer, is Piketty’s Capital and Ideology.

  159. The asphyctic quantum industry | Stupor Complexus Says:

    […] Aaronson, one of the leading independent voices of quantum technology, recently blogged “QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house”, a post referring not to IonQ […]

  160. Bill Kaminsky Says:

    This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC) comic from just 5 days ago (i.e., 2021-03-29) is pertinent:


    P.S. The SMBC comic is, obviously, much more amusing than my own musings. But if you want my musings, well… my only quibble with this SMBC is it seems to me “logicians” wouldn’t be the proper name for the academics being depicted as comically disgruntled about how lucky physicists are that misconstrued physics-y nonsense gets widely publicized by New Agers and self-help scammers. Such academics seem to me to be much more like computational complexity theorists you’d normally find in CS departments (and on this blog!) rather than the mathematical logicians one would normally find in either philosophy departments or in certain pure math departments.

    That said, honesty compels me to make explicit I don’t really know what academic logicians do. Quickly Googling led me to this:


    which seems to be the schedule and abstract book for the big, annual conference in the USA for PhD logicians. Upon skimming, I find there’s definitely some, nonnegligible overlap with computational complexity. Nonetheless — and despite the caveat I’m a physicist and not a computational complexity theorist — I dare say there’s not much in it for the vast majority of computational complexity theorists. 🙂

  161. asdf Says:

    Woah, looks like I was scooped on quantum antigravity! There was already a startup in 2018!


    “Jeremy Rys, is the founder and CEO of Hover Brothers, a research team looking at building a real, working warp drive. … “The race is on because the first group to come up with a correct theory of quantum gravity via quantum entanglement will not only reveal the secret mechanism by which gravity operates they will also be able to turn it off and discover how to freely manipulate its direction and magnitude at will. …We are on the verge of one of the most incredible breakthroughs in physics since Einstein.”

    Turn on the money spigots Boris!!!

  162. Johannes Says:

    Another example of hype-fallout: on April 9th it was announced that the Netherlands invests 615 MEUR (roughly 735 Million USD) in “Quantum”.

    First of all, being a Dutch citizen, I think it’s great and important that the Dutch government invests in academic research. What is not so great, in my opinion, is that this funding bypasses regular science funding agencies like NWO, which is the Dutch equivalent of the NSF. The money comes more or less directly from “The Hague” (the Dutch “Washington DC”).

    Moreover, the politicians have been led to believe that the next “Quantum Silicon Valley” will appear in the Netherlands. Hence, this pot of 615MEUR is not just “money for research”, but it is money for which the government expects “return on investment”; the government even seems to believe that ‘quantum’ will be a new pillar under the Dutch economy (which, firstly, I personally don’t believe, and, secondly, in case you are more positive about that possible future, it is still way too early to conclude such a thing at this point).

    It is funny (or maybe a bit embarrassing) to view the presentations/slide-decks that come with the “press package”, and to see how the bragging goes:


    See for example slide 22 of the above PDF, where an impatient reader (politician?) should get the impression that Delft University would be ranked in quality between MIT and ETH Zurich. When reading the small footnote, you find out that it is actually based on counting the number of occurrences of the word ‘quantum’ in “selected” (cherry-picked? 😉 ) publications.

    Speaking of Delft, we recently saw a striking example of the damage already done to academic research by “big money” interests: the retraction of the Majorana-fermion-experiments Nature article, from the Kouwenhoven-group. It took more than a year from receiving the first critical questions about lack of reproducibility to actually retracting the article. Quite possibly, share-price interests of Kouwenhoven’s corporate employer, Microsoft, had something to do with the delay.

    Also funny are slides 39 and 40, where problems of some Dutch companies are all magically solved by quantum computers. “Quantum portfolio optimization” is, according to my understanding of the current state of knowledge about quantum algorithms and QC-classes for optimization problems (and please correct me if I am wrong), nothing more than keyword concatenation.
    In another example on slide 40, quantum clocks would allow TomTom (a maker of GPS car navigation sets) to improve location accuracy to 30 cm. While that might actually be realistic from a technology perspective, I do not see how this extra accuracy would be worth “100 to 300 million EUR”.

    Another interesting document is:

    Judging from the table of contents, you can see that this pot of money will go to much more than research. Just look at Chapter 5, which speaks of “Action Lines”. Here, I predict a Cambrian explosion in self-invented side roles (with some authority and status, of course), similar to those mentioned in Post #11 in relation to AI. There will be many “figureheads”, “initiators”, “coalition knight”, “rockstars”, etc., all paid on an hourly basis, at rates that an academic researcher on the project (who, in the end, has to do the actual work) can only dream of…

  163. Will Quantum Computing Ever Live Up to Its Hype? - US Wall Post Says:

    […] But he worries that researchers are making promises they can’t keep. Last month, Aaronson fretted on his blog Shtetl-Optimized that the hype, which he has been countering for years, has gotten especially egregious […]

  164. Will Quantum Computing Ever Live Up to Its Hype? – The News 24 Says:

    […] But he worries that researchers are making promises they can’t keep. Last month, Aaronson fretted on his blog Shtetl-Optimized that the hype, which he has been countering for years, has gotten especially egregious […]

  165. {#19} The trophy did not fit the suitcase because it was too small – Scienceground Says:

    […] Aaronson, QC ethics and hype: the call is coming from inside the house. More about rampant overselling of ideas: inside the quantum computing community, some (important) […]

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