This article was published on February 8, 2022

Analysis: D-Wave going public is huge for quantum computing

Has quantum computing finally arrived?

Analysis: D-Wave going public is huge for quantum computing
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Canadian quantum computing startup D-Wave today announced its intent to go public. In doing so, the company will merge with financial corp DPCM to reach a predicted valuation of approximately $1.6 billion. Not too shabby.

While D-Wave isn’t the first quantum company to go public — there are several quantum computing stocks on the market — its entry into the NYSE could have far-reaching implications for the quantum computing industry.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the financial ramifications of the deal. Once the ink dries and everything’s approved, that picture will start to come into focus.

Instead, let’s lay out what this means for big business and the field of quantum computing.

What’s a D-Wave?

D-Wave, in its own words, is:

The first, and only, provider to offer real-time, full-stack quantum systems: from superconducting quantum processing unit (QPU) chip fabrication that powers the quantum systems, to hardware engineering, post-processing software, quantum hybrid solvers, and open-source developer tools.

And, also according to D-Wave, it’s “the only company developing both annealing quantum computers and gate-model quantum computers.”

That all sounds awesome. But it’s difficult to judge where the semantics end and the value begins when it comes to the field of quantum computing in general.

There’s a lot of debate as to what constitutes a legitimate quantum computing system. And even more over whether anything demonstrated so far actually qualifies.

IBM and Google have been arguing over which deserves to be credited with achieving “quantum advantage” first (a nebulous term to describe the point at which a specific type of quantum computer can perform functions no classical system could). Arguably, neither really has.

And, even when there’s not an industry debate waging over which company has the most qubits (a quantum computing term somewhat analogous to “fastest processor” in classical terms), the mainstream media’s coverage of major quantum computing milestones can be a bit confusing.

Canada, for example, will soon receive its first “universal quantum computing system” courtesy of IBM.

But D-Wave’s been building quantum computers in Canada since the company was founded in 1999. So what gives?

The short version of an explanation would be that “quantum computing” is a moving target that’s dependent on context.

On the outside, you have giant research ideas about building massively powerful systems capable of solving literally every possible problem we can imagine.

In this space, you’ll see Google getting a lot of press for its work on things such as time crystals that could potentially revolutionize the field of quantum computing —maybe even within the next 30-100 years.

And on the inside you’ve got companies such as D-Wave that build systems which exploit quantum effects to tackle specific, difficult problems head-on.

These are the kinds of problems that can take traditional computer systems hours, days, or even months to accomplish. We’re talking about things like optimizing shipping at massive scale or creating ultra-efficient and safe factory environments.

They might not seem like the sexiest problems to solve, but they’re the kind that are so hard some businesses simply don’t even try.

What’s this mean for big business?

D-Wave’s always been a bit of a hybrid itself. With one foot firmly in the research world and another pounding the pavement because there’s money to be made solving problems today, its public entry signifies a huge commitment to expansion.

That’s a bit of a no-brainer, but the company’s only just recently ventured into “gate-based quantum computing,” which is a form of the technology that some experts feel more accurately describes a pure quantum computing paradigm.

(If you’re curious, here’s a handy article on ZDNet explaining the difference between annealing and gate-based quantum computing systems)

What this means, realistically, is that D-Wave is ready to compete with the other half of the industry.

According to today’s press release, D-Wave considers its dual-system approach to be one of its biggest advantages:

D-Wave’s annealing systems are designed to unlock complex optimization problems; gate-model and annealing systems can both solve linear algebraic and factoring problems, like those in machine learning and cryptography; and D-Wave’s gate-model program is expected to produce systems that are most suited for differential equations, like those in quantum chemistry.

What does this mean for the field of quantum computing?

Our first question was: how will this impact D-Wave’s work in the field of quantum computing research?

The company is a prolific publisher of research on quantum systems, often in cooperation with public institutes or through the use of government funding.

Neural reached out to D-Wave to ask about its future research endeavors. A company spokesperson said:

We have a long history working closely with the research community, in fact, it’s why we can deliver commercial quantum computing with real use cases today. Those incredible collaborations helped us to identify early use cases in financial modeling, airline gate scheduling, satellite placement, etc. We expect that the transaction will further expand our relationship with this important community.

As far as the implications for other corporations in the same marketplace, it’s difficult to imagine a competition paradigm for quantum computing so soon.

At some point just about all of these companies can expect to see some overlap in customer inquiries, as corporations that don’t currently employ quantum computing systems start to explore cloud-based quantum-as-a-service solutions ahead of any eventual full-stack integration.

But we’re not talking about a heads-up battle, such as iOS competing with Android. When you’re trying to solve problems that have until now been considered unsolvable, it takes more than just good hardware and software. The companies working in this space have to provide fine-tuned, bespoke solutions for their clients.

Yet, it’s almost certain that today’s deal is a net positive for the entire industry. As we like to say here at Neural: a rising tide lifts all vessels.

D-Wave going public sends a clear signal to the next generation of quantum computing startups that the future, for them, is now.

However, it’s not all good news.

For those who are late to this party, there’s one less trophy to be earned. D-Wave may not have the market cornered yet, but it’s laid claim to the coolest possible stock market ID a quantum computing company could have.

Per today’s press release:

Upon closing of the transaction, shares of D-Wave Quantum Inc., a newly formed parent company of D-Wave and DPCM Capital, are expected to trade on the NYSE under the symbol “QBTS.”

A D-Wave spokesperson had this to say:

It’s great — the D-Wave team is very excited to list under QBTS.

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