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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Attracted by promising advances, high-profile companies like BMW and Goldman Sachs are pouring investment money into quantum technology or hiring their own talent in a long-shot bet that the field will be big.
Writes Axios' Kaveh Waddell: Quantum computing is unproven, and even if it can be made to work at the levels experts think is possible, no one knows just how it might be used in business.
Driving the news: For three days this week, quantum nerds and businesspeople from 17 countries packed into the Computing History Museum — blocks from Google in Mountain View, CA — for the second-ever Quantum for Business conference.
The conference comes at a new stage for the field. Scientists studying the unusual properties of tiny particles have paved the way for early quantum computers developed by IBM, Google and other companies. These large, sometimes wacky-looking machines use lasers, supercooling and other tech to manipulate and measure these particles' behavior — the equivalent of how classical computers work with 1's and 0's.
But even early proofs-of-concept, and hybrid machines that marry quantum and classical computers, have prodded companies to nervously dole out cash to stay in the loop.
What's going on now:
Despite the business interest, an uncomfortable worry hovered over the conference. Several speakers fearfully invoked the artificial intelligence winter of the 1970s, when investment withered because AI didn’t live up to its promise.
Since early, room-sized mainframes with whirling tape drives, computers have become more complex — while looking less remarkable by the year.
The exception: early quantum computers.
Kaveh writes: They look like something Leonardo da Vinci might have sketched in 15th century Florence and Milan.
Usually, these complex machines are hidden inside enclosures that shield them from interference and help keep them at temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero.
Go deeper: Gizmodo has more photos
Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals
In 2000, when the Clinton administration was intent on breaking up Microsoft, CEO Bill Gates said his company only looked unassailable. Microsoft, he said, was actually vulnerable to being toppled by any number of as-yet-unseen Davids. Government antitrust lawyers — and much of the country — scoffed.
Just a few years later, in walked Google, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.
The big picture: Now Google seems unassailable and, against fierce criticism that it is far too big, CEO Sundar Pichai is arguing much the same as Gates — that his company only seems impregnable.
"There’s a lot of competition amongst big companies. ... For the first time, I think there is more international competition than ever before, and I think that’s going to hold true."— Pichai, to Axios
Background: Bigness in corporate America is under increasing scrutiny by regulators and scholars who link it to stagnant wages and anti-competition. Together, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google's parent, make up 1% of the companies in the S&P 500, but nearly 15% of the wealth.
But in interviews this week, when Axios asked Pichai and Gates how they are reckoning with the backlash against bigness, they defended it.
NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The future of work during the age of Web 3.0 (Peter Diamandis — Tech blog)
Voyager 2 is in interstellar space — with intact sensors (Andrew Freedman — Axios)
A world wide web in space (The Economist)
Small countries grapple with Russian interference (David Shimer — New Yorker)
Harvard is buying up California vineyards — and water (Russell Gold — WSJ)
Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/Getty
It was a scene out of a children's movie: A storage tank containing tons and tons of liquified chocolate at the DreiMeister chocolate factory in the German city of Westoennen broke — and out poured enough sweet deliciousness to pave the streets of the small town, Erica writes.
What followed was not as idyllic, reports AP. In the cold German winter, the melted chocolate instantly hardened, and cleanup crews had to scrape it off with shovels. The pesky bits that dripped into cracks in the pavement had to be melted with torches and then hosed away.
There is no word if Westoennen's children got any.