Quantum computing is one of those technologies that, like artificial intelligence, has been attracting the interest of investors for some time – even though few can actually explain what it involves.
The technology, put very simply, involves harnessing quantum physics – the branch of the science that seeks to describe and explain how and why objects behave and move in the way that they do – to store data or perform computations to a vastly more efficient degree than traditional computers.
Quantum computers are said to be able to operate millions of times faster than existing ones.
But the technology has also been the topic of much debate in investment circles.
Supporters believe it has the potential to transform many industries and sectors, including genetic medicine, pharmacology, financial services and materials development.
Sceptics argue that its vast potential may take many years, if ever, to be realised.
Last Wednesday, however, brought news of a deal that suggests quantum computing may indeed be on the verge of a breakthrough that could see it being applied more widely across business and industry.
Cambridge Quantum Computing, a British business founded in 2014, announced it is to combine with the quantum solutions arm of the US industrial giant Honeywell.
The pair said the combined business would be “extremely well-positioned to lead the quantum computing industry by offering advanced, fully integrated hardware and software solutions at an unprecedented pace, scale and level of performance to large high-growth markets worldwide”.
Honeywell will be the majority shareholder of the new company, with CQ’s shareholders, including Ilyas Khan, its founder and chief executive, owning just over 45% of the business.
Mr Khan said that he believed a breakthrough in the quantum computing had already arrived.
He told Sky News: “I think the tipping point was probably in the last 18 months. China, the United States, the United Kingdom, of course, have major programmes and lots of countries and companies have said that they face an existential risk if they don’t get quantum computing right.
“In terms of applications, things that we will use on a day to day basis, I think a good analogy is mobile phones – at the end of the 1980s, before they arrived, nobody really knew that they’re going to use them and of course, when they did arrive, the markets and their usage exploded.
“I would imagine that later on this year things like cyber security, for example, will be offering unhackable keys using the quantum computer, and it will begin to be more and more useful. Maybe the more esoteric uses are probably a couple of years away, machine learning, for example, [or] material discovery.”
He said the combined business would be a “global powerhouse” capable of creating and commercialising quantum solutions that address “some of humanity’s greatest challenges”.
Barron’s, the influential US financial publication, has already suggested that the enlarged business could be the ‘Apple of quantum computing’ because the deal brings together Honeywell’s expertise in quantum hardware with Cambridge Quantum’s expertise in software and algorithms – emulating the way Apple straddles hardware, operating systems, and software applications. Honeywell itself has said that quantum computing will one day be a trillion dollar-a-year industry.