Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

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.

Quantum computing is unproven, and even if it can be made to work at the levels experts think is possible, no one knows how just it might be used in business. But, disregarding the massive uncertainties, big companies for the first time are putting down stakes, fearful of being left behind if quantum becomes the next big thing.

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.

  • Their objective: to network and, through panels, tutorials and technical workshops, find out what is on the field’s cutting edge.
  • "It is like preparing for a 100-meter run, if you do not know where it will go or when it will [begin]," said Oliver Wick, quantum computing lead at BMW. "But you have to be prepared in order to start at the beginning."

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.

  • These computers could theoretically solve problems too complex for classical computers.
  • This hasn’t happened. Researchers still must solve intractable technical problems, and find the right problems for the machines — ones that are "classically hard but quantumly easy," as Caltech professor John Preskill puts it.

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.

  • "Even though it's hard to see a practical effect in the next two to three years, this is when we need to think about our [intellectual property] in this area," said Paul Burchard, head of R&D at Goldman Sachs.
  • Gen. William Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, said his program has invested more than $5 billion into quantum technologies. "We see potential applications for future military capabilities" in several areas, he said.
  • "Pessimists say quantum is 20 years out. Optimists say it’s three. The realists are preparing today," William Hurley, CEO of quantum computing startup Strangeworks, told Axios.

What's going on now:

  • D-Wave, a leading quantum computing company, has helped various businesses run more than 100 experiments on their unorthodox machines, hoping to highlight possible applications of an unproven technology.
  • Booz Allen Hamilton used it to figure out where to fly satellites to maximize coverage; Germany’s space agency analyzed air traffic over the North Atlantic; Ocado, an online grocery giant, optimized its robots’ paths through enormous warehouses.

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.

  • D-Wave president Bo Ewald emphasized that his company’s projects are still trials. "We can't solve real-world problems yet," he said.
  • "We are here at the beginning of the valley of death, the most difficult part of the journey to commercialization," said Alan Ho of Google’s quantum lab, referring to the unsteady period between research investment and industry pickup.
  • To avoid winter, someone needs to develop a killer quantum application, predicted Airbus R&D head Thierry Botter. "That's likely to open the floodgates."
"It's been 37 years since [Richard] Feynman made the call for the launch of the field and we're just now getting to the state where quantum computers are capable — we hope — of doing interesting things."
— John Preskill, Caltech Institute for Quantum Information and Matter

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.