In his latest blog post, Jack Woehr ponders about the factors that might determine when quantum computers will become practical, to the point where people like him “can play with them”.
In my opinion, quantum computing research is currently mostly a government funded, academic endeavor. Private sector investment in QCs is currently almost nil. It will take an eternity to develop a large scale quantum computer this way. If the private sector were more involved, that would certainly speed up the development of QCs. So the question in my mind is, how can we encourage more private investment in QCs. This reminded me of the great automobile and airplane contests of the early 20th century (Great auto race of 1908, Orteig aviation prize of 1919), and of the current X prizes.
The first X Prize was the Ansari X Prize, announced in 1996, $10 million to the first private company to fly a man to near space (100 km altitude) (twice in two weeks, in the same “reusable” vehicle). 26 teams from around the world participated. It has been estimated that 10 X $10 million was invested in pursuit of the prize. The prize was won in 2004 by SpaceShipOne.
An important goal of the Ansari X prize was to encourage private investment in the space industry, so participants were not allowed to have any government funding.
Since the Ansari X prize, 4 more X prizes have been announced and still lay unclaimed (Google Lunar, Progressive Automotive, Archon Genomics, Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander) and 4 more are in the planning stages (Energy and Environment, Exploration, Education & Global Development, Life Sciences).
As of today, a search of the official X Prize website yields no hits for the keyword “quantum computer”. However, note that there is a very enticing “Propose an X Prize” button on the home page.
I end with an inspiring quote which I got from this news article. In an interview, Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the X prize, paid tribute to his friend and mentor, Arthur C. Clarke, by relating the following story about Clarke:
“He told me something once that I thought was incredibly valuable. He said, ‘Peter, there are three phases of a good idea. The first phase is, people tell you it’s a crazy idea, it’ll never work. The next phase is, they say, it might work but it’s not worth doing. And the third phase is when people tell you, “I told you that was a great idea all along.”‘
“The X Prize has definitely gone through those three phases, and I think of Arthur every time I talk about that. I’m thankful for his support … and also for his absolute passion regarding the need of the human race to evolve beyond the earth.”