Scientist claims greedy physicists have overhyped quantum technology

Nikita Gourianov, a physicist at Oxford University, yesterday published a scathing article full of wild and damning claims about the field of quantum computing and the scientists working in it.

According to Guryanov, the quantum computing industry has been misled by greedy physicists who have exaggerated the possibilities of the technology in order to rip off VCs and get private sector salaries to do academic research.

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According to Guryanov’s article, the real problems started in the 2010s after investors started noticing the hype around quantum physics:

As the money poured in, the field grew and it became increasingly tempting for scientists to oversell their results. Over time, salesman-type personalities, usually without any understanding of quantum physics, entered the field, taking up leadership positions in corporations and focusing solely on fanfare production. After a few years, a greatly exaggerated perspective on the promise of quantum computing reached the mainstream, leading to greed and misunderstanding and the formation of a classical bubble.

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Guryanov’s whole premise seems to be based on their assertion that “despite years of effort, no one has yet managed to build a quantum machine capable of solving practical problems”.

They illustrate their point by pointing out that Rigetti, IonQ, and D-Wave (three popular quantum computing companies) combined failed to generate enough profit.

According to Guryanov:

The reality is that none of these companies – or any other quantum computing companies, for that matter – are actually making any money. What little revenue they generate comes mostly from consultancy assignments to teach other companies “how quantum computers will help their business”, instead of truly exploiting the advantages of quantum computers over classical computers.

Finally, Gurianov’s conclusion leaves no doubt about their feeling on this subject:

Well, it’s hard to say exactly when the bubble will burst, but at some point the claims will be uncovered and the funding will dry up. I just hope that when the music stops and the bubble bursts, the public will still listen to us physicists.

toil and trouble

In the words of the great Jules Winnfield, Samuel Jackson’s character from the classic film Pulp Fiction, “Well, allow me to retort.

I have only five words to say to Gourianov, and they are: IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Intel.

I don’t think we need to dive deep into big tech’s balance sheets to explain that none of these companies are in financial danger. Yet each of them is developing quantum computers.

It’s unclear why Dr. Gouryanov would completely exclude big tech from the argument. There are dozens and dozens of articles from Google and IBM alone demonstrating breakthrough after breakthrough in the field.

Guryanov’s main argument against quantum computing seems, inexplicably, to be that they won’t be very useful in cracking quantum-resistant encryption. With all due respect, that’s like saying we shouldn’t be developing surgical scalpels because they’re pretty much useless against chainmail.

According to Guryanov’s article:

Shor’s algorithm has been a boon to the quantum industry, resulting in untold funding from government security agencies around the world. However, the commonly overlooked caveat here is that there are many alternative cryptographic schemes that are not vulnerable to quantum computers. It would be far from impossible to simply replace these vulnerable schemes with so-called “quantum-secure” schemes.

This seems to suggest that Guryanov thinks that at least some physicists have thrown a bait and switch at governments and investors by convincing everyone that we need quantum computers for security.

This argument seems a bit juvenile and looks like borderline conspiracy theory. Governments around the world have been working in tandem with experts from companies such as Google spinout SandboxAQ and IBM for several years to solve the encryption problem.

No serious decision-maker will be confused about how math works because of some shitty hype or misleading headline.

Gurianov’s rhetoric peaks as they seem to accuse physicists of manipulating the hype around quantum computing out of sheer greed:

Some physicists think, privately, that there is no problem here: why not take advantage of the situation while it lasts, and take easy money from unsophisticated investors? Earning a salary at the private sector level while doing mostly academic research is pretty good business, after all.

That’s quite the accusation.

Quantum computing bubble?

Overall, though, it seems Guryanov’s main complaint isn’t that quantum computers don’t work., is that they are not very useful. Dr. Goryanov is not wrong. The technology is far from mature.

But make no mistake, today’s quantum computing systems work. They just don’t perform well enough to replace conventional computers for many useful functions – yet.

IBM's quantum roadmap, an infographic