When Will Quantum Computing Have Real Commercial Value?

Nobody really knows

3 min read
Workers assemble the enclosure for the IBM Q System One quantum computer.
Photo: IBM Research

photoWorkers assemble the enclosure for the IBM Q System One quantum computer, which was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.Photo: IBM Research

Our romance with new technologies always seems to follow the same trajectory: We are by turns mesmerized and adoring, disappointed and disheartened, and end up settling for less than we originally imagined. In 1954, Texas Instruments touted its new transistors as bringing “electronic ‘brains’ approaching the human brain in scope and reliability” much closer to reality. In 2000, U.S. president Bill Clinton declared that the Human Genome Project would lead to a world in which “our children’s children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars.” And so it is now with quantum computing.

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This photo shows a man holding a silver sphere that is about the size of a bowling ball. A seated women stares at the ball. Behind her, others wait their turns.

People queue up to have their irises scanned at an outdoor sign-up event for Worldcoin in Indonesia.

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In a college classroom in the Indian city of Bangalore last August, Moiz Ahmed held up a volleyball-size chrome globe with a glass-covered opening at its center. Ahmed explained to the students that if they had their irises scanned with the device, known as the Orb, they would be rewarded with 25 Worldcoins, a soon-to-be released cryptocurrency. The scan, he said, was to make sure they hadn’t signed up before. That’s because Worldcoin, the company behind the project, wants to create the most widely and evenly distributed cryptocurrency ever by giving every person on the planet the same small allocation of coins.

Some listeners were enthusiastic, considering the meteoric rise in value that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin since they launched. “I found it to be a very unique opportunity,” said Diksha Rustagi. “You can probably earn a lot from Worldcoin in the future.” Others were more cautious, including a woman who goes by Chaitra R, who hung at the back of the classroom as her fellow students signed up. “I have a lot of doubts,” she said. “We would like to know how it’s going to help us.”

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