Quantum State of Mind: Observations from the Global Quantum Symposium

By Murray Thom, VP of Quantum Technology Evangelism, D-Wave

8 min readApr 23, 2024
Full house at the Global Quantum Symposium 2024.

Acaptivating highlight of traveling in Europe is the ability to witness the signs of innovation everywhere: on the roads, in the buildings, even in the shape of the cities. Seeing the craftsmanship pass from the use of wood to stone, to iron, you can connect with a progression of innovations while losing yourself in the streets. And, in my case, I mean losing myself quite literally.

Basel, Switzerland has a rich history of industrial development. Moreover, it has a history of fueling new innovations: for example, in the late 19th century its silk-spinning industrialists re-invested in new businesses that produced electrical machines and dynamo generators, thereby modernizing their economy with innovative new technology. It seemed fitting, therefore, to visit uptownBasel, Switzerland’s world-class center of excellence for technology innovation, to participate in the Global Quantum Symposium. This was a great opportunity to meet with business leaders, technologists, and researchers to share success stories and exchange ideas on how quantum computing technology is creating transformational impact for business.

Global Quantum Symposium 2024

This premier event, held by QuantumBasel, is where D-Wave’s Chief Development Officer, Dr. Trevor Lanting, and I landed at the end of March to present on quantum applications that are supporting enterprise operations and give an update on D-Wave’s recent technical progress. We received a warm, enthusiastic reception, and it was a real pleasure to stand on stage with Damir Bogdan of QuantumBasel, symposium host and organizer, and industry peers, to close the session focused on updates from quantum computing industry leaders.

D-Wave’s Murray Thom with Damir Bogdan of QuantumBasel, symposium host and organizer, and industry peers, to close the session focused on updates from quantum computing industry leaders

Shortly after my talk, Phil Arnold of Vinci Energies presented his company’s first quantum computing proof of concept (PoC), an application developed using D-Wave hybrid solvers to optimize the design of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The application identified superior HVAC network designs, provided new approaches, and yielded solutions more quickly with shorter duct lengths and fewer construction elements. It was powerful to hear Phil share a relatable use case, see the improved results, and learn that the benefits were realized at full operational scale. Bringing a positive impact to people, business, and society is the realization of a goal that is built on many years of technical development. This project speaks to the benefits of collaborative innovation in using quantum computing technology to drive sustainable and efficient solutions in building design. And as was clear from the presentations and conversations across the entire event, this was just the beginning.

My experience at the Global Quantum Symposium this year confirmed some key trends: the industry overall is making tremendous progress in quantum engineering; innovators have a head start in gaining access to knowledge and talent for hire; and business are getting traction with developing and deploying quantum applications.

“Instead of playing notes one by one, we can play chords on a quantum guitar”- Roee Ozeri, Professor and VP of Development and Communication at Weizmann Institute of Science, Scientific Founder at Quantum Art (Global Quantum Symposium, Day 1)

D-Wave’s Murray Thom shares success stories on the main stage.

Observation 1: We’re Making Tremendous Progress in Quantum Engineering

Looking back through history, I believe it was the development of engines that transformed work during the industrial revolution. Previously, work was defined by what humans or animals could do. With the development of steam, electric, and internal-combustion engines, we could produce rotary motion with torque, and this introduced an entirely new class of work. Improvements to these engines were limited by our ability to manufacture parts. Gradually our ability to control and shape materials with precision developed alongside the engine technology that it enabled. This historical perspective of engine technology development offers lessons that can help us understand the significant acceleration events taking place in the current information age.

At the beginning of the 20th century, humans were witnessing behaviors of light and charge that they could not accurately understand or describe. What was then the phenomena of rare experiments studied by Albert Einstein and a small group of scientists led to the theory of quantum mechanics. By 1982, the Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman suggested using these strange quantum effects as a resource to accelerate calculations. From those humble beginnings, we now have quantum computing systems widely available in the cloud to support production applications. A consequence of the cumulative efforts of quantum technology development is the emergence of unprecedented control over a variety of quantum systems: information is now routinely processed with the smallest measurable units of magnetic field, charge, voltage, or light. Quantum circuitry can be fabricated with zero electrical resistance, and rapid prototyping can be achieved with atomically precise manufacturing.

“… we have developed methods of atomically precise manufacturing … and I say manufacturing rather than fabrication deliberately.” — Michelle Simmons, CEO and Founder of Silicon Quantum Computing, ARC Center Director, and ARC Laureate Fellow (Global Quantum Symposium, Day 1)

Mise-en-place is a term in French cooking which means to prepare ingredients and set them in place. It is critical to the operation of a professional kitchen where a variety of diverse dishes need to be cooked and assembled rapidly. In the field of quantum technology, the equivalent has been two decades spent painstakingly assembling global research on device properties for quantum data storage, initialization, coupling, readout, operating rates, and fabrication. Now, academic researchers and experts can give an overview of that information in a day. And in under an hour, a technology entrepreneur can get a comprehensive overview of their choice of quantum devices — whether implemented with superconductors, ions, atoms, electrons, or photons. With our newfound understanding of quantum systems, and the availability of that information, we are at the very beginning of an acceleration curve in the information age.

Observation 2: Leaders Gain Their Advantage with Access to Knowledge and Talent

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has recently gone through a remarkable expansion. New technologies offer compelling demonstrations of things like natural language processing, computer vision, and machine learning, which are captivating the interest of researchers, businesses, and the public alike. As a larger community explores AI technology, new capabilities emerge more quickly — within this positive feedback cycle, the catalyst for this explosive growth is the ease of use for new users of the technology. These same conditions are present in the quantum computing field, and many expect a similar expansion phase that could lead to a demand for talent. Matt Langione from Boston Consulting Group claims that a “winner-takes-most” situation is emerging in quantum computing, whereby 90% of the value is expected to go to 10% of early adopters. He went on to explain that this is because during phases of rapid expansion, scarcity of resources creates a dichotomy between those who have access to the technology, and those who do not. Just as important as access to technology is access to the people who understand how to use it.

“What is impressive is the number of young brilliant people being attracted to the field.” — Daniel Loss, Professor of Physics, University of Basel (Global Quantum Symposium, Day 2)

Given the lessons learned from the exponential growth of AI, and the parallel conditions in the field of quantum computing, business leaders should act now with preparations that have little to no downside. These include:

  • Upskilling your current workforce with professional programming courses that teach them how to use quantum computing technologies to tackle complex business challenges.
  • Acquiring talent with experience in Python programming, optimization, core math and statistics.
  • Collaborating with your business and product teams to identify use cases for quantum computing. Practical use-cases inform business divisions about the opportunities to create quantum-powered applications and investigate the ROI for quantum-optimized solutions.

Observation 3: Businesses Engage with Quantum Through Its Applications

Quantum computers are devices that use quantum effects to accelerate calculations. As with classical computing, quantum applications are emerging everywhere. Near-term applications are often found in operations involving resource allocation, scheduling, and routing.

Businesses benefit from engaging with quantum computing technology through its applications, as the process allows teams to see operational challenges from a new perspective. For example, a classical strategy for optimizing the selection of players for a sports team is to assume that fractions of players can be chosen during optimization and then to rectify the solution to whole individuals in a post-processing step. Quantum computers natively handle the binary in/out decisions during optimization, often resulting in a better end-result. Quantum computing allows application developers to let go of outdated approximations that were designed for the constraints of classical computing.

D-Wave’s Dr. Trevor Lanting being interviewed by journalist and producer Désirée Lehmann about D-Wave technology.

This means that quantum computing, correctly implemented, doesn’t introduce complexity. It should alleviate it. It’s plainly obvious to any business owner that you can’t require someone to learn quantum mechanics to manufacture goods and serve their customers. Quantum computing industry insiders who believe this is the right path for their customers may need to take a few steps in their shoes to better understand the challenges businesses face.

A large community of enterprise business leaders and software developers are adopting quantum technology for economic benefits. In doing so, they will shape the development of quantum computing in productive directions. The challenge is to keep up with the pace of business. We should acknowledge the work of early quantum adopters who are realizing measurable benefits of quantum in real-world scenarios now. In my ongoing discussions with the broader quantum ecosystem, I will continue to dispel myths that quantum computing’s utility lies far in the future and demonstrate how organizations can benefit from quantum — not tomorrow — but today.

About D-Wave

D-Wave is a leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems, software, and services, and is the world’s first commercial supplier of quantum computers. Our mission is to unlock the power of quantum computing today to benefit business and society. We do this by delivering customer value with practical quantum applications for problems as diverse as logistics, artificial intelligence, materials sciences, drug discovery, scheduling, cybersecurity, fault detection, and financial modeling.

Discover more at dwavequantum.com and begin your quantum journey today.