The discontinuous future

At the beginning of 2020, I was asked to join the chorus of analysts providing an outlook on how the pandemic would change the trajectory of the IT market.

I declined. Forecasts and forecasters look adequate in periods that look like the previous period, with relatively minor and explicable variations. Forecasts in times of great disruption are a fool’s errand: conditions and requirements change in unexpected ways, along unpredictable vectors and at unanticipated velocities.

These variances occur in different degrees and with different durations. For an extreme example, think back to the dawn of the Internet. Did anyone really foresee how the world would change when every person was connected with every piece of available knowledge? For that matter, do we understand today how life will change when every item is also connected to a ubiquitous information grid?

The internet gave us a glimpse of a truly discontinuous future. As horrific as its human effects have been (and continue to be), the pandemic will be different, at least in terms of forecasting; the business will settle into a pattern that can be interpreted through the lessons learned this year. As embarrassing as 2020 forecasts were, 2021 forecasts will be better. COVID will not disappear, but its impacts will be better understood.

In “Preparing the Data Centre for the Quantum Era,” an online GCDCS20 event session, four Canadian quantum experts – Dr. Michele Mosca, Rafal Janik, Alireza Najafi-Yazdi and Bruno Couillard – shared insights into the pace of quantum progress, the key issues shaping requirements and opportunities, deployment models and considerations, and other issues – notably security – that will define the pace and direction of quantum as it re-invents what computing is capable of doing.

The panel was asked a question about unexpected directions: if we were looking back from 2040, what developments would have been unexpected when we spoke about quantum in this session in 2020? One panel member joked that “quantum computing has had the advantage of being 10 years away for the last 25 years,” and that as a result, many potential applications have already been debated (like quantum cryptography), helping today’s future-focused industry thinkers to identify at least some of tomorrow’s quantum use cases.

I think it’s likely, though, that we are just beginning to imagine how quantum will change our world. Despite the association of the two words, quantum is not an event – it is better thought of as an entirely new capability, one that is in search of problems that we can’t imagine solving today, or that we have yet to define. Quantum will create a discontinuous future – not for a year, but for an era. I’m not foolish enough to forecast the direction or magnitude of the change it will enable, but I am very interested in understanding the journey as it unfolds. The Quantum Industry Canada experts who spoke at the session deserve our thanks for the illumination they have cast on a dimly-understood segment of the IT industry – and I’d like to thank them in advance for keeping Canadians informed, and keeping Canada relevant to the quantum future.


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