Scientists warn the ‘quantum revolution’ may stagnate economic growth

Quantum computing technologies are slowly beginning to trickle out of the laboratory setting and into commercial industries. While it remains to be seen when mainstream adoption will occur, a number of companies are currently engaged in experiments and trials with paying clients to develop quantum computing solutions. 

According to a pair of researchers from the University of Cambridge and Bandung Institute of Technology, this represents a critical period wherein the world still has the opportunity to prepare itself for what the researchers are deeming “the quantum revolution.”

In a recently published commentary in the Nature journal, researchers Chander Velu and Fathiro Putra describe the “productivity paradox” and explain how the mainstream adoption of quantum computing could slash economic growth for a decade or more.

Per their commentary:

“The digital revolution took decades and required businesses to replace expensive equipment and completely rethink how they operate. The quantum computing revolution could be much more painful.”

The productivity paradox is a business and finance term that explains why the introduction of new, better technology doesn’t usually result in an immediate increase in productivity.

Businesses have seen this in nearly every aspect of the nascent blockchain and cryptocurrency industries. As the requirements for mining increase, for example, so do the costs associated with entering the space in any competitive capacity.

Less than a decade ago, it was fashionable to mine cryptocurrency with a desktop PC’s spare computing power. As the rates of adoption rose, so did corporate interests and the costs of entry.

Screenshot of chart showing mining hashrates over time. Source: Blockchain.com

And, as fintech is one of the industries experts predict will experience immediate disruption from the quantum computing sector, it’s likely the sector will see direct integration with mining, blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies immediately.

Related: Researchers demonstrate ‘unconditionally secure’ quantum digital payments

To explain the productivity paradox, the researchers cite a period lasting from 1976 through 1990, when labor productivity growth — a measure of how productive individuals are at work over time — slowed to a crawl. The reason for this stagnation involved the onset of the computer era.

Essentially, the costs associated with the global switch from paper to computers combined with the need to retrain the entire workforce and create entirely new solution ecosystems and workflows caused the trend of growth to stall out until the integration was finally completed during the mid-1990s.

The researchers see a similar predicament occurring as quantum computers go from brushing up against usefulness to potentially becoming a backbone technology for business.

The two main roadblocks to a smooth transition into the quantum age, according to the researchers, are a lack of general understanding of the technology among leaders and risk aversion.

While businesses with a clear use case, such as shipping or pharmaceutical companies, may be quick to adopt quantum solutions, the rate of return might not appeal to risk-averse businesses looking for immediate impact.

To mitigate these concerns and accelerate the adoption of quantum computing, the researchers suggest a renewed focus from governments and researchers on illustrating the potential benefits of quantum computing and the development of language and terminology to explain the necessary concepts to the business community and the general public.

The researchers conclude by stating that the first order of business when it comes to preparing for the quantum computing future is to ensure that the “quantum internet” is ready for secure networking.

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