Oct 2, 2021 - Technology

Quantum computing hits the stock market

Illustration of binary and upward arrow on an LED stock market ticker.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

IonQ on Friday became the first quantum computing hardware company to go public, via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Why it matters: Quantum represents the next generation of computing, and while the industry is likely still years away from producing widely reliable hardware, IonQ's performance should be an indicator of how the market views the technology's potential.

What's happening: IonQ began trading on the New York Stock Exchange Friday morning, and it ended the day down about 10%.

  • Its roster of investors includes Google Ventures, Amazon Web Services and Bill Gates' climate fund Breakthrough Energy.

How it works: Maryland-based IonQ, which was founded in 2015, employs powerful lasers to trap ions from the rare Earth metal ytterbium, and uses them to form quantum bits or qubits — the basic unit of quantum computing.

  • The company already produces a 22-qubit quantum computer that it sells access to through AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud platforms.
  • Fidelity is using IonQ's hardware to create algorithms that can crunch historical data to determine the likelihood of a borrower defaulting on a loan, while Goldman Sachs uses it to determine how the movement of one company's stock price is affected by changes in another company's price.

What they're saying: "It's still early in the overall lifecycle of the quantum market, but this is like asking investors whether they would have wanted to invest in Apple when the Apple II computer came out," says Peter Chapman, IonQ's CEO.

The catch: IonQ doesn't disclose its revenues — though the company has said publicly it's in the "eight figures" — and even some quantum computing experts believe the industry's promises have outpaced its accomplishments.

What to watch: Chapman says IonQ will use the capital raised from going public to fund its efforts to build a 64-qubit chip by the end of 2023.

  • He claims those chips will eventually be able to be networked together to provide more than 1,000 qubits of processing power — the level many experts believe is required before quantum computers can reliably outperform cloud-accessible classical supercomputers.

What's next: The XPRIZE Foundation announced yesterday that it would work with the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator to launch a global quantum computing innovation contest.

  • "The world faces massive computational problems, and we believe quantum computers can really help," says XPRIZE's Amir Banifatemi.
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